Does School Remediation Result in Success?

by Ellen Doman


I wrote a paper on this topic some decades ago for a graduate school paper. I entitled it, “Does Remediation Mean Failure?” and based it on quite a few definitive studies. Needless to say, those studies are long outdated and the paper, which was not very popular with my fellow educators, is no longer current. Sadly, though, the outcomes are the same as they were “back in the day.” And weirdly, there are not a lot of longitudinal studies of what happens to students who receive remedial courses in elementary, middle, and high school. I find this odd, considering how much time and energy goes into it and the high degree to which parents trust it.

Many, many children who come to NACD are involved in remedial coursework or some other type of remedial school-based strategy, frequently in math and reading. I’m sure that we can all agree that students need to be successful in math and reading in order to be successful when they graduate from high school. There are studies showing that students are less likely to drop out of school if they are struggling and remediation of some kind is given. That may be where the good news ends if we look at how high school students are faring today.

The majority of middle school students intend to go to college when they graduate. Only 44% of high school graduates actually enroll in college, and only 26% of them actually graduate from a four year college (Conley, 2012). Out of all the students taking the ACT, only 25% of them were ready to do college work (ACT, 2012). Out of students taking the SAT, only 43% of them were considered prepared to be successful in college (College Board, 2012).

So, you may say, not everyone is going to college nor is everyone going to be successful in college. There are certainly other very lucrative career paths. This is absolutely true. Unfortunately, even those training programs often require pre-admission testing such as the COMPASS test, which is not the SAT but is certainly not a simple test.

There has been a very sharp increase in the number of students who are enrolled in college and taking remedial non-credit courses. According to University Business magazine, somewhere around two thirds of the students entering community colleges are required to take remedial courses. These non-credit courses may be designed to pave the way to credit courses, but many students do not make it through the remedial courses themselves, let alone progress to credit courses and graduation.

Long-term positive outcomes are what every parent wants for every one of their children. Short-term success resulting in long-term problems and low income are not the outcomes any parent or student has in mind. So what would the solution be if there is, in fact, a solution?

Gearing education to a student’s current processing level makes educational strategies more efficient and effective. Fixing neurological inefficiencies that are causing poor educational performance is essential. The failure of educators and curriculum developers to understand that every child does not process at the same level has led to curriculum strategies and remediation strategies that may be varied but are “Johnny One-Notes,” in that they all assume that students have processing levels of 7 or above, working memory capacities that are intact, and a normal or close to normal rate of development of language and conceptual thinking.

This thinking results in the general strategy being simply to slow down the rate of input and put some visual underpinnings in place to help stabilize information being input that is conceptual. Although short-term that approach may look as if it is helping, without addressing the underlying neurological issues, it will not result in sustained progress or higher level conceptual thinking, working memory capacity, or executive function and allow the child to catch up and stay caught up.

There are students with whom I have worked in the past who were failing in school due to stressful home environments or the absence of consistent parenting. For those students with no significant neurological inefficiencies, remediation, which often involves increased one-to-one attention that may be positive and supportive, may lead to positive outcomes that are more sustainable. These are not the majority of students receiving remedial services, however.

We can all talk about the dire straits of the U.S. educational system; but the real issue is what is happening to your child today and next week, next year and ten years from now. In order to make those outcomes the most positive possible, we must work together to improve each child’s ability to take information in, store it, process, and utilize it. We also need to educate your child successfully, making what is being taught relevant, interesting, and able to be understood and utilized. Fortunately, we can do this by working together. Parents and NACD are the right combination to produce success.


ACT. (2012). The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2012. Iowa City, IA: http://media.act.org/documents/CCCR12-NationalReadinessRpt.pdf

College Board (2012) SAT Report: Only 43 Percent of 2012 College-Bound Seniors Are College Ready. http://press.collegeboard.org/releases/2012/sat-report-only-43-percent-2012-college-bound-seniors-college-ready

Conley, D.T. (2012). College and Career Reading: Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 27 No. 1, 2014 ©NACD

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