The significance of literacy for postsecondary success has been demonstrated in numerous
research reports showing that attrition and underachievement are strongly linked to low levels of language proficiency (Jennings and Hunn, 2002; Perin, 2004). It has also been shown that Canadian adults with lower literacy levels have significantly lower employment rates and incomes, higher rates of unemployment, and are less likely to be engaged in their community than Canadian adults with higher literacy levels (Statistics Canada, 2005). On a national scale, literacy is a key factor in economic growth, productivity and innovation (Coulombe, Tremblay and Marchand, 2004).
Graduating over 71,000 students per year (MTCU, 2011), colleges play a central role in preparing Ontario adults with varying literacy levels for the labour force. A recent review of literacy-related practices at Ontario’s colleges demonstrated that there is currently a wide range and diversity of activities and models being used to address the language needs of students (Fisher and Hoth 2010). Without the appropriate supports, literacy and language challenges are barriers that prevent students from achieving success in their chosen program of study and subsequent career. All post-secondary institutions struggle with finding workable models to support these students, yet there has been little rigorous research evaluating the effectiveness of various remediation approaches (Levin and Calcagno 2008).
In fall of 2008, George Brown College piloted an innovative remedial approach in the Practical Nursing program that targets reading, writing, speaking and listening skills while integratingcontent from select core courses, termed the Communications Adjunct Model (CAM). The goal of this research project was to assess the impact of CAM on adult learners with diverse remedial
English language needs in order to provide important lessons for post-secondary institutions. To assess the program’s effectiveness, the academic performance of students placed in CAM was examined in relation to two comparison groups. The first comparison group consisted of students in the same cohort as the CAM group (2008/2009) who were not placed in CAM. The second comparison group included students from two academic years prior to the introduction of CAM (2005/2006 and 2006/2007) who fell below the entrance score cut-offs for selection into the adjunct program.
The analysis undertaken suggests that CAM did not have a strong effect on overall grade performance (GPA). While two out of the four evaluations of the effectiveness of the program showed that CAM had a positive effect on students’ GPA, the results were weak and did not prove to be reliable across comparison groups. It is important to remember, however, that the analysis assessed the impact of CAM solely on GPA performance. CAM has a number of additional objectives, such as general language skill development, that would require additional data collection and analysis to better determine the effectiveness of the program. Nonetheless, there are many important learnings that can be gleaned from the project based on George Brown
College’s experience of developing and administering CAM.