Getting Started

Tips and tools for colleges beginning to consider acceleration

We recommend that colleges follow four main steps as they get started with acceleration:

  1. Build a shared understanding of the problem
  2. Examine your local pipeline data
  3. Review relevant national research
  4. Create a compelling vision of the possible

Each is described below, with resources to support your work.

Honey Badgers for Acceleration: The College of the Canyons Math Team, Fierce Advocates for Reform


Step One: Build a Shared Understanding of the Problem

To mobilize your campus toward acceleration, it helps to have a core group of idea champions. These are people who understand the problem of how many students are lost inside long developmental sequences, and who are committed to doing something about it.

The California Acceleration Project has developed three key resources to help mobilize your local idea champions:

  • Webinar  “College Completion: Why Accelerating Developmental English and Math is the Essential First Step.”  This 75-minute webinar presents nationwide data on developmental English and Math and demonstrates that high attrition is structurally guaranteed in long developmental sequences. It also introduces several accelerated models, with a focus on successful programs from Chabot and Los Medanos. Skip past the first seven minutes of webinar house-keeping.
  • Article  “Exponential Attrition and the Promise of Acceleration in Developmental English and Math.”  Originally published in the RP Group’s newsletter Perspectives (June/July 2010), this article makes the case for shortening and redesigning developmental sequences.
  • Article “Acceleration across California: Shorter Pathways in Developmental English and Math.” This article from the national magazine Change (May/June 2012) describes the spread of accelerated models across the state and some of the key ideas driving this movement.

We recommend sharing these resources with people on your campus — administrators, faculty, institutional researchers, members of the basic skills committee, any one interested in helping more students reach their goals. As concerns come up during these conversations, it’s important to keep people focused on why we are pursuing acceleration: because too many students are lost under the existing system. Below, Berkeley City College Math Instructor Kathy Weber does a good job of focusing on the big picture when discussing a potential source of opposition to acceleration: anxiety that a shortened sequence could mean fewer jobs for faculty.

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Step Two: Examine Your Local Pipeline Data

Information from other colleges can be motivating, but nothing beats seeing data from your own college. How many students go on to complete transfer-level English and Math from different starting placements (1-level below, 2-levels below, 3-levels below)?

This new tool gives colleges easy access to their own data on how many students make it through English, ESL, Reading, and Math sequences. It was developed through a collaboration of 3CSN, the RP Group, and the state Chancellor’s office.

Step Three: Review Relevant National Research

There is extensive evidence showing that our current multi-level system of developmental education is not working and that the standardized tests we use to track students into this system are poor predictors of student capacity. There is also a growing body of research demonstrating the promise of accelerated models to improve student completion rates. Key studies include:

This multi-state study examines how over 250,000 students did — and did not — make it through developmental sequences at 57 community colleges participating in Achieving the Dream. Key finding: “more students exit their developmental sequences because they did not enroll in the first or a subsequent course than because they failed or withdrew from a course in which they were enrolled.”

This working paper examines nationwide evidence on the effectiveness of placement exams. Key finding: “the evidence on the predictive validity of these tests is not as strong as many might assume, given the stakes involved—and recent research fails to find evidence that the resulting placements into remediation improve student outcomes.”

This paper reviews the literature on models for accelerating students progress through developmental education.

This study examines student outcomes from the Accelerated Learning Project at the Community College of Baltimore County, a program that mainstreams upper-level developmental English students into the college-level English course, with an additional support class taught by the same instructor. Key finding: “participating in ALP is associated with substantially better outcomes…82% of ALP students passed ENGL 101 within one year, compared with 69% of non-ALP” students.

Step Four: Create a Compelling Vision of the Possible

When faculty are reluctant to move toward acceleration, it is sometimes because they cannot imagine what an accelerated class might look like. How would it be different from what they’re doing now? What would they cover, and what would they cut? What would the assignments be? And could students really handle it?

The rest of this website is intended to address this uncertainty. The “Developing Pilots” page can help you envision the specific models of acceleration you might implement, and the articles and materials under “Teaching Accelerated Courses” provide a window into the day-to-day of accelerated classrooms. Our hope is that these resources can help build a new sense of optimism among community college faculty: optimism that students can handle the demands of accelerated classrooms, and optimism that we, as teachers, can support them.

Evidence from accelerated programs at other colleges can be helpful in this work — descriptions of how accelerated courses operate, data on how students perform in these programs — such as the following report from Chabot College:

Accelerated English at Chabot College: A Synthesis of Key Findings

We’ve also found classroom video to be one of the most powerful tools for this step. It is difficult to keep saying developmental students “can’t handle” the challenge of an accelerated classroom when you see Myra Snell’s Path2Stats students reason their way through a problem from the national CAOS exam and prove that the exam’s answer key is incorrect.

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Some context: Path2Stats at Los Medanos has no minimum placement score, so the students in this video include many who placed into arithmetic and pre-algebra courses, 3 and 4 semesters below college level in the traditional sequence.