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Developmental Education Reform and the Racial/Ethnic Achievement Gap: The Case of First-Semester Gateway Course Passing Rates When Florida Made Developmental Education Optional


by Toby J Park, Chenoa S. Woods, Shouping Hu, Tamara Bertrand Jones, Oguzcan Cig & David A. Tandberg — 2018

Background: Developmental education (DE) has been critiqued because of its high cost, the inconclusive evidence as to its effectiveness, and the overrepresentation of underrepresented minority students required to take it. Because Black and Hispanic students are more often referred to developmental courses and may require more levels of remediation, a significant racial/ethnic achievement gap between White students and underrepresented minority students has formed in the likelihood of students earning credit for college-level courses in their first semester.


Focus of Study: To address these concerns, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 1720 in 2013, which, among other mandates, made DE (and placement tests) optional for many students. Now that this barrier to gateway course enrollment has been removed, this article seeks to understand whether there was any relationship between its removal and the achievement gap between White students and underrepresented minority students in gateway course passing rates, or gateway success, in the first semester.

Research Design: We employed a difference-in-differences model estimating the relationships between students’ race/ethnicity and their success in gateway courses, specifically English Composition 1 and Intermediate Algebra. Interaction terms between an indicator for the year the policy was implemented and indicators for race/ethnicity allow us to determine whether Black, Hispanic, and White students experienced differential outcomes following the policy change.

Data Collection: Data for this analysis came from the Florida Education Data Warehouse, the statewide student-level longitudinal database. We examined the first-semester educational trajectories of Black, White, and Hispanic students across six cohorts of students who entered one of the 28 colleges in the Florida College System between 2009 and 2014.

Findings: The findings indicate that now that students have the option to bypass developmental courses, Black and Hispanic students are enrolling in gateway courses at higher rates compared with White students. Further, although course-based passing rates have declined, the cohort-based passing rates for Black and Hispanic students have increased at rates higher than those of White students, which provides some evidence that the achievement gap may be closing in Intermediate Algebra.

Conclusions: This study illuminates an important positive outcome that has far-reaching policy implications. Results suggest that by making DE optional, there can be a reduction in, and indeed the elimination of, the racial/ethnic achievement gap in at least one measure of student success in college. These findings suggest that eliminating barriers can have a strong positive impact—at least in the short term—on the success of Black and Hispanic students.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 12, 2018, p. 1-24
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22506, Date Accessed: 11/15/2018 5:48:49 AM

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About the Author
  • Toby Park
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    TOBY J PARK is associate director of the Center for Postsecondary Success and assistant professor of education policy at Florida State University. His primary research utilizes quasi-experimental methods and large statewide data sets to investigate student outcomes in postsecondary education and explore potential policy initiatives that could improve student success. His recent publications have appeared in Research in Higher Education and the Journal of Higher Education.
  • Chenoa Woods
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    CHENOA S. WOODS is a research faculty member at the Center for Postsecondary Success at Florida State University. Her research interests focus on equity issues related to college access and success. Her recent publications include work on high school college-going culture and scaffolding educational experiences for at-risk college students.
  • Shouping Hu
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    SHOUPING HU is the founding director of the Center for Postsecondary Success and the Louis W. and Elizabeth N. Bender endowed professor of higher education at Florida State University. His research interests include student postsecondary readiness, outcomes, and success and public policy. His recent publications include a number of research papers and journal articles related to developmental education reform in Florida, as well as a series of studies investigating the impact of Florida’s lottery-funded merit aid program.
  • Tamara Bertrand Jones
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    TAMARA BERTRAND JONES is associate director of the Center for Postsecondary Success and associate professor of higher education at Florida State University. Her research uses culturally responsive frameworks to examine the sociocultural contexts of evaluation and education for underrepresented populations in academia. Her recent publications have appeared in the Journal of Higher Education and New Directions for Evaluation.
  • Oguzcan Cig
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    OGUZCAN CIG is a researcher in the Office of Quality Assurance and Reporting and an adjunct instructor in Educational Leadership and Policy program. His research interests include early cognitive development, teacher education, and racial and ethnic disparities in education. His recent publications include articles in Research in Special Education Needs and Computers in Human Behavior.
  • David Tandberg
    State Higher Education Executive Officers Organization
    E-mail Author
    DAVID TANDBERG is principal policy analysist with the State Higher Education Executive Officers Organization and formerly associate professor of higher education at Florida State University. His research interests center on state higher education policy, politics, and finance. His recent publications include an article on how the relationship between the governor and the state higher education officer shapes financial support for higher education, appearing in the Journal of Higher Education.
 
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