Due to new state legislation, some St. Petersburg College students will no longer have to take placement tests when they register beginning Spring 2014. Any student who has graduated from Florida public high school with a standard diploma after 2007 or is active-duty military can exempt placement testing and/or developmental (or remedial) courses and head straight into for-credit courses.
The move is part of a broad overhaul of Florida’s educational system designed to improve success rates and streamline the educational process. In addition to establishing academic pathways, which are broad categories of study concentrations that will be used to focus graduation requirements, legislators are also helping students who may be incorrectly placed in developmental courses they don’t really need.
The state has also enacted dramatic changes to the structure and content of developmental classes.
Here’s how it will work: “exempt” students will be given the option of taking the placement test. If “exempt” students choose to take the placement test, however, they do not have to follow the recommendations based on placement scores. They may simply enroll in for-credit courses. For the “exempt” group, advisors will be able to recommend different course options based on factors like high school GPA and standardized test scores, but it’s up to these students to decide whether they think they need remedial instruction.
Adult learners who entered high school prior to 2003 as well as private school and “out-of-state” students returning to college will still be required to take placement testing and follow course recommendations.
The new legislation also gives schools new flexibility in how developmental material will be provided to students. Currently, developmental courses are set up like any other class, with a full semester’s worth of instruction with the same material for all students, regardless of the specific areas in which students need help.
The new law calls for modularized, compressed, and/or accelerated instruction. Suppose your abilities in algebra, for example, are fairly good but for one area, say quadratic equations. With modularized instruction, you’ll be able to take a shorter, personalized developmental course that concentrates just on the skills where you need more practice. You won’t have to sit through an entire algebra class and go over things you’ve already mastered.
The new modular developmental courses will also be computer-based, so you can work through the modules you need at your own pace. The software will be able to track your progress and tailor the work to your abilities, giving you more practice on things you need to work on and less on things you don’t.
The modular design of the developmental courses means that the classes don’t need to last through the entire sixteen-week semester, so they will be compressed into shorter sessions. Every college affected by the changes will be able to create their own plan to redesign developmental education courses to fit into these new guidelines; SPC will adopt a variety of approaches to give students more choices and increase their chances of successfully graduating.
One of the interesting innovations SPC will offer is the chance for some students who actually tested into developmental courses to take a for-credit course instead, as long as they also take a one-credit development lab at the same time. These courses, called corequisites, will be available to students who nearly placed into a for-credit course but were just a few points short. If you almost made it into Comp I, for example, you’ll be given the option of taking that class along with a compressed, 1-credit-hour writing lab. These labs will use the same modular software as the regular developmental courses, meaning you still won’t have to spend time re-learning skills at which you’re already proficient.
Being presented with all of these choices will seem daunting for new students. How is someone fresh out of high school supposed to evaluate their own abilities and choose the right course without taking a placement test? Of course, if you’re not sure, taking the placement test will give you a good idea of whether or not you need developmental courses. Advisors can help by evaluating your transcripts, as noted above, but can’t tell you what to do. Or you can play with the MOOC.
MOOCs, or Massive Online Open Courses, are free online classes designed to accommodate a huge number of students. The software provides instruction and evaluates your work so you don’t need to wait for feedback from an instructor unless you’re having serious difficulty. SPC already offers a free math MOOC, and writing and reading MOOCs will appear later this fall. You can participate in a MOOC on your schedule, free of charge, and find out which path is best for you.