Evan Rhinesmith: Examining Remediation Policies in Higher Education
By: Lauren Kloser
In Evan Rhinesmith’s ACE classroom at Sacred Heart School in Washington, DC, his third-graders were already asking about college. They were worried that college might not be for them, that perhaps they wouldn’t be ready, and that the opportunity to continue their education at a higher level might be beyond them, both financially and academically. Evan realized that while many schools focused simply on getting students into college, large numbers of their students still found themselves in need of help and guidance once they reached a higher level of education. Having just earned his doctorate in education policy from the University of Arkansas, Evan studied the connections and disconnections between the K-12 and higher education systems with a focus on post-secondary remediation policies.
After his two years in ACE, Evan had thought about perhaps pursuing doctoral work in history, but his conversations with Brian Collier, other ACE graduates in the graduate school world, and his experience at Sacred Heart led to his interest in education policy. Sacred Heart, as it served low-income students and participated in the school choice program, was experiencing in real time the effects of education policy decisions being made at higher levels of the government. Evan’s personal encounter with problems and issues helps him remember that, even as he now works with large data sets, real people and families are affected every day by the decisions made at larger institutional and governmental levels.
Through his studies, Evan learned more about college remediation policies, which differ from state to state. Students may be declared to be underprepared for college work depending on their ACT or SAT scores, and the number of students who require remediation varies from a very small percentage at larger universities to the majority of enrolled students in community colleges. This variation makes it difficult to have a cohesive remediation strategy throughout a state, and to complicate matters further, remedial classes have become such an entrenched part of the educational landscape that it has become difficult to change, modify, or create a consistent set of goals for the wide range of needs in a state’s college classrooms.
For his dissertation, Evan conducted the first evaluation of Arkansas’ statewide college remediation policies. Much like other states, Arkansas’ post-secondary remedial classes don’t count towards graduation. Evan is studying the impact of remedial classes on student persistence and graduation. As part of his work, Evan surveyed students in a remedial English composition classroom about their feelings about the class and their eventual goals for their life after college. Most students did not think that the class was worth their time, but they took the class because it was required. Through his dissertation research, Evan became more familiar with similar studies of remediation policies in Tennessee, Ohio, and Florida, which show that students in remediation often aren’t doing any worse or any better from other students. But this lack of preparation prior to enrolling in college eventually does make an impact on their probability of earning a degree. The probability that remedial students, especially community college students, will earn a degree falls below that of their non-remedial peers. It seems as though remedial classes, intended to make students more prepared for the college intellectual and work load, is not having the desired effect of preparing these students.
Now that Evan has finished his doctoral studies, he is working to share his results with the state in hopes of starting a broader discussion among schools, principals, and students about how the knowledge from education research can forge better connections between all levels of education. Evan knows well the dreams of even the youngest students and, with his voice added to the research in the field, hopes to find new ways to help every student succeed.