College remediation — before college

Most high school graduates enroll in college, but one in four will be placed in remedial math or English or both, reports Education Reform Now. At community colleges, a majority of entering students aren’t prepared for college-level work.

Twelfth graders prepare for college math at a high school math lab.

Tennessee 12th graders prepare for college math.

Not surprisingly, poorly prepared students are more likely to drop out. Those who earn a degree take longer and spend more to reach their goals.

Now, a few high schools in Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado are warning students they’re on the remedial track before it’s too late, offering catch-up classes in 12th grade, reports Hechinger’s Jon Marcus.

Fewer students are showing up at college needing remediation.

An analysis of data obtained by The Hechinger Report finds that, from 2011 to 2014, the proportion of high school graduates arriving at Tennessee community colleges in need of remedial instruction fell from 69 percent to 59 percent while the percentage of students in Indiana landing at all public universities and colleges unprepared for college-level work dropped from 31 to 18, and in Colorado from 41 to 34.

The idea is getting a push from new funding policies that reward public colleges and universities based not on their enrollment, but on their students’ ultimate success.

In Tennessee, where only 17 percent of public high school students score at college-ready levels on the ACT, 240 high schools have joined SAILS, the Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support program. Seniors who’ve scored below 19 in ACT math take online or in-person SAILS courses “designed by college faculty in collaboration with high school teachers,” Marcus reports.

Some high schools are adding SAILS help in English.

Here’s more on how colleges are trying to place fewer students in remedial classes and move them more quickly to the college level. One option is to lower math requirements for students who plan low-math majors.

‘Free’ college? First, fix high school

Forget “free college” — now embraced by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, writes Will Swaim in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece. First, “deliver universal high school education.”

No, we don’t have that already, argues Swaim, who works for the California Policy Center. “What we’ve got is nearly universal credentialing.”

“Millions of American kids are conveyor-belted through a system that does not produce math proficiency or English literacy at grade level,” he writes.

In 2015, the Los Angeles Unified reported a 72 percent graduation rate, he notes.

At David Starr Jordan Senior High, just 18% of all students met the basic English standard and just 6% in math. So how did 64% of students graduate?

The story is much the same at Thomas Jefferson Senior High: 33% English proficiency, 9% in math – and, despite all that bad news, a graduation rate of 62%.

“The most imposing barrier to college isn’t tuition” for many high school graduates, writes Swaim. They don’t have an adequate high school education.

They go to college, but do they graduate?

Most school districts brag about sending graduates to college, but don’t know how they do once they get there, writes Lauren Camera in U.S. News. How many earn a degree? How many give up in their first year? District of Columbia Public Schools and some other urban districts have started tracking graduates to see how many complete college.

DCPS learned that 19 of 20 2014 graduates who enrolled at an area college didn’t make it to sophomore year; the 20th dropped out later. This year, thanks to well-informed counselors, nobody’s going there.

College counselors are given four- and six-year completion rates for D.C. students at every college and university at which they’ve enrolled. They can steer students away from schools where D.C. graduates have done poorly and toward better bets.

D.C. does the most to analyze its students’ college careers, writes Camera, but Baltimore and New York City schools also analyze data on their graduates. The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research studies the success (or failure) of Chicago Public Schools from ninth grade to their mid-20s.

Many of the college-prep charter networks are analyzing how their graduates do in college — not as well as expected — and using the data to improve academic programs and counseling. I think that will have more of a payoff than assuming than steering poorly prepared students to slightly more effective colleges.

ACT: 20% of college-ready students don’t enroll

ACT college readiness and enrollment 2016.JPG

About 20 percent of well-prepared students don’t enroll in college, estimates a new ACT report that looks at the nearly 2 million students in the class of 2015 who took the ACT.

On the other hand, 23 percent of poorly prepared students do enroll.

ACT sets college-readiness benchmarks in English (composition), reading, math, and science. Scores are linked to a 75 percent chance of earning a C and a 50 percent chance of earning a B in a first-year college class in that subject.

“However, 22 percent of students who met three of the four college-readiness benchmarks, and 17 percent of those who met all four, did not enroll,” reports Liana Heitin. “Conversely, the data show that 23 percent of students who met none of the college-readiness benchmarks enrolled at four-year schools.”

College unreadiness

About one in three students in the class of 2007 was “college-ready” in reading and math by graduation, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress, writes Mike Petrilli. Eight years later, about one in three had earned a bachelor’s degree. Not surprisingly, college readiness predicts college completion. But it’s not quite that simple.

Chart 1: College preparedness, college matriculation, and college completion

*2005 marked the beginning of a new NAEP assessment framework for math.

Many students think college is the only path to a decent job. In 2015, when 37 percent of 12th graders were college-prepared in reading and/or math, 69 percent enrolled in post-secondary education a few months after graduating from high school. A very high percentage — including those placed in remedial classes — said their goal was a four-year degree.

Students who are the first in their families to go to college, low-income students, Latinos and blacks are less likely to earn a degree. Academic readiness isn’t a complete explanation, writes Petrilli.

“Blacks and Asian-Americans are more likely to earn a degree than their 12th-grade readiness would predict, Latinos are less likely and whites are the same,” he observes.

As this NBER working paper from 2006 explains, “Blacks get more education than do whites of similar cognitive ability.” The authors, Kevin Lang and Michael Manove, posit that because of discrimination in the labor market, “Education is generally a more valuable signal of productivity for blacks than for whites. As a result, blacks invest more heavily in the signal and get more education for a given level of ability.” In other words, because some employers won’t hire blacks without a college degree, they are even more motivated to get a credential than others.

Asian-Americans’ high completion rates probably are due to their culture (and their parents), speculates Petrilli.

The “completion agenda,” which tries to get more disadvantaged students to a degree, could do useful work in getting Hispanics “across the finish line,” writes Petrilli. “As of the class of 2006, one in four Hispanic students who were ready for college didn’t complete a bachelor’s degree.”

Hispanics disproportionately enroll in community colleges, which have low graduation rates.

Failing remedial algebra, passing statistics

Michigan State will drop its algebra requirement in favor of “quantitative literacy,”  reports Inside Higher Ed.

“We’re trying to present mathematics in a way that makes it more accessible and understandable,” said Vince Melfi, associate professor of statistics and probability. For example, students will study how probability applies to health and risk, Melfi said.

. . . students could be informed that a hypothetical person’s test came back positive for breast cancer. Based on that information, they would be asked to determine the likelihood that the person had the disease.

After arriving at answers, students would be encouraged to discuss the value of screening for diseases such as breast cancer or prostate cancer — a topic that has fostered debate among medical professionals, Melfi said. “An important part of these courses is to go beyond just manipulating symbols on a page and coming up with the right answer, and to reflect on what those answers mean in a specific context,” he said.

Statistics probably is more useful to non-STEM students than the algebra. But, I wonder about college students who can’t figure out 2x + 4 = 14. It’s not rocket science.

Wayne State University in Detroit decided to drop its general-education math requirement, but plans to introduce “math experience” courses for students whose majors don’t require math.

Remedial math — basic algebra — is a huge stumbling block for many students, especially at the community college level, reports Science DailyPoorly prepared students are more likely to be able to pass statistics, City University of New York researchers have found.

New community college students assessed as needing remedial algebra were placed randomly in a remedial algebra course, remedial algebra with weekly workshops providing extra support or in a college-level statistics class with weekly workshops.

Fifty-six percent of statistics students passed compared to 39 percent in remedial algebra. By the middle of their second year in college, 57 percent of statistics students had met their college’s math requirement, compared to only 16 percent of remedial algebra students.

Too hard to fail?

Is it becoming too hard to fail?, ask Moriah Balingit and Donna St. George in the Washington Post.

School districts are making it harder to fail by banning zeroes for missed or failing work and letting students retake exams and turn assignments in late.

Under a new policy in Virginia’s Fairfax County, one of the nation’s largest school systems, middle and high school students can earn no lower than a score of 50 if they make a “reasonable attempt” to complete work. And for the first time this year, high school teachers who were going to fail a student had to reevaluate the student using “quality points,” making an F less detrimental to a student’s final grade. Prince George’s County in Maryland will limit failing grades to a 50 percent minimum score when students show a “good-faith effort.”

The goal is to keep students from giving up and give stragglers more time to learn the material. However, some teachers are dubious, reports the Post.

Forty-two to 69 percent of high school teachers had concerns about the proposed grading policy on a recent survey, said Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association.

“We have no problem being fair to students,” she said. “But if they are not doing the work and not performing, and we give them a grade they did not earn, how does that make them college and career ready?”

Sam Hedenberg teaches English to special education students at Fairfax’s Mount Vernon High School, where zeroes are banned. t=The lowest possible score is a 53.

“It definitely provides that opportunity for a kid to catch up,” Hedenberg said.

But he also has seen students game the system. One student was able to pass his class even though he skipped several essay-writing assignments. “Many students have already started to figure out that they don’t have to do very much but they can still pass,” he said.

The trend also is to base grades on students’ mastery of coursework, not on whether they do homework, turn assignments in on time or other measures of work habits.

At a Los Angeles charter network, seniors advised against test retakes in “exit interviews,”  reports KPCC.

Kayla Martin, who’s among this year’s graduates from PUC Community Charter Early College High, said some students felt comfortable blowing off tests because they could retake them. But that left them feeling less-prepared for college.

“Once you get to college, you can’t retest,” she said. “Once you get that grade, that’s it. You try to go to a professor and say, ‘Retest,’ and they’re going to laugh at you and say, ‘We don’t do that.'”

Now, students can retake quizzes, but not tests.

Fudging grad rates via ‘credit recovery’


Owensmouth High  students received their diplomas on June 8. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Only 54 percent of Los Angeles Unified seniors were on track to graduate in December, due to new (absurd) requirements that everyone complete the college-prep sequence required by state universities.

By the end of March, 68 percent were on track, reports the Los Angeles Times. In June, an estimated 74 percent received their diplomas. What happened?

Online credit recovery courses enabled thousands of students who failed regular classes to qualify for a diploma, reports the editorial board. But did they learn anything?

LAUSD: English Language Arts 11A, which is supposed to be the first semester of junior-year English, could take 50 or 60 hours, reports the Times.

The reading excerpts come from fine and often challenging literature — “Moby-Dick,” “The Scarlet Letter,” great poetry and the like. Video lectures give the background of the works and teach lessons about tone, setting, vocabulary choice and so forth. There are four writing assignments during each semester.

But students can test out of much of the course, including the writing, by passing a 10-question multiple-choice quiz at the beginning of each unit.

With a score of 60% or better — six of the questions — a student passes the unit, without having to go through the lectures, read the full materials or write the essays. Opening up other tabs on the computer to search for answers on the Internet is allowed. That’s not really cheating: The questions aren’t about straightforward facts. Students must interpret passages, for instance. But there’s plenty of help online via Sparks notes and other resources, and a full hour is given to answer the 10 questions.

Students aren’t asked to read a full book in the first semester; the second semester requires one book.

“I’ve seen students make up a semester’s worth of credits in a school year’s final month and then miraculously earn their diplomas,” wrote teacher Mario Gonzalez in response. “I’ve seen kids who don’t even know their multiplication tables or how to reduce a fraction pass algebra (on paper, at least).”

He asks: “What’s the point of patting ourselves on the back for improved graduation rates if the diploma itself is highly devalued?”

Fudging graduation numbers is a lot easier than educating students, concludes the Times editorial board. “Under pressure to produce better numbers, school officials in California and nationwide have often done whatever it takes to get to those numbers, including lowering standards while pretending to raise them, and reclassifying students instead of educating them. These students then go on to college or the workplace, mistakenly thinking they have the skills they’ll need.”

Math is out, diversity is in

A Detroit university will drop its math requirement, but may require students to take four diversity-promoting courses, reports the Daily Caller.

Until now, Wayne State has required all students to take Math 1000 — a reprise of high school math — or earn a satisfactory score on a standardized math test. (A 2 in AP math, the equivalent of a D, is good enough.)

Wayne State sponsors a Math Corps for Detroit students.

Detroit high school students in Wayne State’s Math Corps march in a Labor Day parade.

In the future, each major will decide how much math students need, if any.

“A lot of students need remediation in math,” Kim Shmina, who served on WSU’s nursing faculty until May, told Campus Reform. “They’re not at the high school level.”

Wayne State will adopt a new general-education program in fall 2018. A review committee’s proposal makes “the values and goals of diversity . . . a central component of the University Core.” Mandatory “Signature” and “capstone” courses would “be required to address one of the Diversity learning outcomes: Intercultural Knowledge and Competence, Global Learning, or Ethical Reasoning” and student also would be required to take at least one “Diversity” course.

Under the proposal, students in no-math majors may be placed in a “quantitative experience” course, Monica Brockmeyer, associate provost for student success, told Inside Higher Ed.

The university already offers a Math 1000 course called “Math in Today’s World” that would count, she said.

But so would other courses offered by a range of departments, including those in the humanities, she said. For example, a social science course on inequality in urban areas could include a mathematical component by asking students to gather data and calculate trends over time.

It’s entirely possibly that social science and humanities students should learn statistics rather than taking another shot at algebra. Instead, I fear, future Wayne Staters will get total immersion in “diversity” and a lick and a promise in math.

As for engineering, accounting and nursing majors, I hope they’re not too busy learning globally and interculturally to master their subjects.

25 years of charters: They’re not alike

In Charter schools at 25, Education Week looks at what’s changed since Minnesota passed the first law authorizing publicly funded, privately operated charter schools.

One story looks at two very different charter schools. St. Paul’s teacher-led Avalon School draws middle-class, white students interested in project-based learning. Alliance for College Ready Schools in Los Angeles focus on preparing lower-income Latino and black students to be the first in their families to go to college.

Some observers inside and outside the sector contend they have wandered far from their original purpose: to be schools of innovation and serve as a research and development sector for traditional K-12 schools. In many ways, Minnesota still embodies some of the early ideas, while cities such as Los Angeles represent what the charter movement has become: an engine powered by muscular foundations for raising the prospects of low-income African-American and Latino students.

“Raising the prospects” of kids who most need a decent education seems like a good goal to me. If project-based learning isn’t the most effective method for doing that — or black and Latino parents prefer a more structured, orderly school — why is that a problem?

 Nationwide, 5 percent of K-12 students attend charters, but in 14 cities, 30 percent or more have chosen charters.
Harvest Schools in Minneapolis are designed for African-American and East African students. Photo: Minneapolis Post

Harvest Schools in Minneapolis are designed for African-American and East African students.

Blacks make up 28 percent of charter students, nearly double their percentage in traditional public schools, according to an Ed Week analysis of federal data. Twenty-nine percent of charter students are Latino, compared to 25 percent at traditional schools. Whites are under-represented at charters.

Critics also claim all-minority charters — chosen by parents — are “resegregating” education.

Minnesota allows charters targeted to African-American, Native American, Somali and Hmong students, reports Ed Week. Some worry the schools aren’t diverse.

For example, Minneapolis’ Harvest Network of Schools enrolls low-income African-American and East African students, placing some in single-gender programs. The curriculum is “steeped in African history and culture.”

Obviously, some parents prefer Harvest’s focus to what’s offered at their more integrated (but probably low-income, high-minority) neighborhood school.