Satisfactory Progress Assessments for Remedial Coursework

Recently  questions have arisen regarding treatment of remedial coursework under the new Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements. According to the Department of Education (ED), any Title IV-eligible coursework needs to be subject to an assessment of progress. However, if remedial coursework is auxiliary to, rather than part of, the student’s program of study, it does not necessarily have to be incorporated into the progress assessment of the regular program. Thus, a school may assess the remedial work under some different standard, as defined by the school’s SAP policies.

The new SAP rules are flexible enough to allow treatment of remedial coursework in a number of ways, although ED’s guidance is that, at a minimum, you must conduct a qualitative assessment of remedial work. Treatment of remedial courses in the quantitative component is entirely up to the institution, as provided in the regulations at 668.34(a)(5)(ii). English as a Second Language (ESL) courses within the student’s program are treated the same as remedial work, and do not have to be counted in pace determinations (see SAP Q&A #3 and 4 on ED’s Program Integrity information page.

For the qualitative component, examples of possible treatments are:

  • Incorporate grades for the remedial courses into the student’s GPA and assess the student’s progress under your normal SAP standards (presumably, you would use the number of credits for the remedial course used to establish enrollment status for any weighting in the GPA calculation);
  • Calculate a GPA for only the remedial work and apply a separate standard of progress;
  • If remedial courses are not graded (e.g., are on a pass/fail system), establish a grade equivalency to use in either the regular or a separate GPA calculation;
  • If remedial courses are not graded, assess the remedial work separately, using a standard other than a GPA.

As remedial courses tend to be noncredit, and not part of the normal published length of a program, the quantitative component need not encompass remedial coursework. The school’s policy should state that.

If the school chooses to impose a full SAP analysis for remedial coursework, one treatment for the quantitative component could be to incorporate the remedial courses into the student’s program. In that case, the school could elect to extend the student’s program by the equivalent credits that are used for determining enrollment status. For example, suppose a student in a 60-credit degree program needs to take remedial courses, for which the equivalent credits used to determine enrollment status total 12. The school might want to consider this student’s program to be 72 credits in length. The maximum timeframe would then be 150% of 72 rather than 150% of 60, and pace for that student would be measured under that timeframe.

Alternately, the school could construct a separate quantitative assessment of just the remedial work. For example, the school might allow only one repeat of a remedial course, and consider the quantitative component as having been failed if the student cannot pass the course in two tries.

SAP evaluations can become complicated if the student’s remedial work is scattered among regular coursework, or is not determined up front upon admittance but rather as the student progresses and makes academic choices.  If all of the student’s remedial work must be completed before progressing to regular coursework for the program, a separate assessment might be much easier to implement.  If the student takes a combination of regular and remedial coursework, it might be more practical to incorporate the remedial courses into the standard assessment, even if they are excluded from the quantitative component (as noncredit courses).

With more strongly articulated emphasis on the eventual probability of program completion, schools need to take a careful look at their policies to determine when a student is no longer able to complete the program under the SAP measures. The concept of pace is designed to towards that end. But for a student struggling with remedial courses, at what point does that struggle translate into an improbability of program completion?

Take, for example, a student whose remedial requirement is in math only, but satisfactory performance in that area must be attained as a degree requirement in order to graduate. If the student fails the remedial course, or fails more than the number of times the school allows, when should the school determine that the student is unable to graduate, regardless of satisfactory progress in other areas of the student’s program? Your policies should address that scenario.


Publication Date: 10/6/2011

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