Judged to be academically underprepared, millions of students must take developmental education in college, and more than half never make it through or graduate. Experts argue that there are two main problems: Too many students are being placed unnecessarily into developmental courses, and the structure and traditional instructional practices in developmental education can pose barriers to student success. Educators are developing and implementing many innovations to address these issues, but little is known about the breadth and scale of reforms across the country. The Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR), a partnership between MDRC and the Community College Research Center, is conducting research to examine these issues.

Among institutions that offer developmental education, a large proportion of public two-year colleges still rely on a traditional multisemester prerequisite sequence of developmental courses. CAPR’s survey data show that about 76 percent of public two-year colleges offering developmental education use the traditional sequence for at least three math sections, and 53 percent do so for reading and writing. But many public two-year colleges are moving beyond the traditional approach and are experimenting with different instructional reforms in two or more course sections. Over half the colleges surveyed have implemented compressed courses in math, in which a traditional semester-long course is shortened into a multiweek or half-semester course. And just over half the colleges had integrated developmental reading and writing courses into one streamlined course. Colleges are also trying approaches such as multiple math pathways, self-paced learning models, flipped classrooms, and corequisite remediation.

Read the full research brief on developmental education practices by Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow and Alexander K. Mayer at mdrc.org.