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Developmental Education: The Evolution of Research and Reform

Developmental Education: The Evolution of Research and Reform

Almost two thirds of entering community college students and over one third of students entering less selective four-year colleges are judged as lacking in the math and language skills necessary for success in college-level courses. Traditionally, these students have been referred to “remedial” or “developmental education” programs, which are designed to bring students’ math, reading, and writing skills up to the college’s expectations of entry-level students.

Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of students referred to traditional developmental education sequences never complete these requirements. In response, states, college systems, and individual institutions have embarked on a wide array of reform efforts focused on increasing the accuracy of systems that place students into developmental education, accelerating student progress into college-level coursework, and improving the instruction and student supports for underprepared students.

In this chapter, the authors review the traditional system’s structure and effectiveness and provide a history of first-, second-, and third-wave reforms and research on those approaches. This chapter also delineates the teaching and learning issues that must be addressed in order to further advance the reform movement and discusses areas for future research.

This chapter appears in Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, vol. 33.