About 90 per cent of incoming freshmen at the University of the District of Columbia have been required to take non-credit remedial courses in English and Mathematics this fall because of low scores on new placement exams.
Although the tests, are not tied to national norms, professors who have reviewed them said the passing score used by the university is equivalent to the average level of achievement for ninth graders nationwide.
The remedial courses for those who score low start with the fundamentals of multiplication and fractions in mathematics and with basic sentence structure and grammar in English.
"We really start from scratch in these courses," said Donald L.Greene, acting director of freshmen advising at the university. "We try to bring the students up to where they can handle (college-level) work."
Ewaugh F. Fields, the dean of UDC's university college who reported the placement test results, said she expects the required remedial courses will lead to a reduction in university's high drop-out rate.
"We want to prepare our students so they will be successful," Fields said. "Under our open admissions policy we don't screen out anybody. But we do want to place students where we can meet their needs . . . . A good number of our students need extra help in the fundamentals skills of reading and mathematics.
Fields said about 90 percent of the 2,100 students tested are graduates of Washington's public high schools.
According to the most recent test results, about half the seniors in D.C. high schools score at the ninth grade level or below on standardized tests.
The mandatory placement exams and remedial courses for those who fail them are part of an elaborate structure for the new city university that was developed by faculty committees last winter and approved by trustees in May.
The university was formed by a merger of the District's three public colleges-Federal City College, Washington Technical Institute and D.C. Teachers College.
This fall marked the start of a unifield academic program for the new university. All new freshmen were re quired to take the same placements exams and the same remedial courses regardless of whether they are seeking two-year or four-year degrees, Field said.
In the past only D.C. Teachers College required students to take remedial courses, even though professors at the other two colleges also complained that many of their students were unable to handle college-level work.
Many professors of upper-level courses said they often had to go back to teach fundamentals because standards in freshmen courses were too low.
Only about half the students enrolled in freshman English passed it at Federal City. During the past eight years only about 20 percent of those who entered Federal City or Washington Tech eventually graduated.
"We're trying to beef up the academic standards here," said William Moore, the university's vice president for academic affairs, "and reduce attrition by giving students the best shot we can (at learning). The students will not move ahead until they can achieve."
We like what's happening ," Moore continued, "because students are accomplishing more and professors (in regular courses)will not have to do as much remediations as they have in the past."
Because so many students scored low on the placement exams. Moore said, 20 extra sections had to be added in both remedial English and math.
Some sections of regular freshmen classes were canceled, but many professors who switched to the new courses seem pleased with how they are progressing.
"Attendance is better than ever before," said English professor Jackson C. Boswell. "The students seem bright-eyed and eager to learn.There is a great feeling of hopefulness about the place that there's never been before."
Besides the placement tests and remedial courses, the university has imposed strict probation standard for the first time this fall. About 30 percent of returning students now are on probation.