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40% of Ohioans need remedial math or English in college

Forty percent of Ohio high school graduates weren’t ready for college-level math or English when they entered one of the state’s public colleges or universities in 2012, according to new data from the Ohio Board of Regents.

That represents more than 20,000 Ohioans who paid tuition in college for what they should have learned in high school.

Remedial classes have been called the “bridge to nowhere” because only about half of students complete them and even fewer go on to graduate, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing college attainment. The developmental courses do cost money, but they don’t count toward a student’s degree.

Nationwide, an estimated $3 billion is spent a year by students and states on remedial education “with little success to show for it,” according to Complete College America.

Even local school districts rated “excellent” or better by the state have double-digit remediation rates, according to the Ohio data. That issue has been the focus of attention from state leaders to local superintendents, but the problem is complex, said Tom Lasley, executive director of Learn To Earn Dayton.

“To reduce these numbers, it’s not like there’s one silver bullet,” Lasley said.

District-level data varies

Statewide, the remediation rate improved slightly from 41 percent in 2011. The information is limited because it only measures students who enter a public college or university in Ohio and not those who leave the state for higher education or attend a private school.

In Dayton City Schools, 75 percent of graduates entered remedial math or English in 2012. Dayton schools increased its graduation rate 10 points over last three years to nearly 70 percent in 2011-12, but that has not improved the remediation rate, said Superintendent Lori Ward.

It is likely that not every one of those students needed remedial education, because single tests used to place students can misdiagnose their needs, Lasley said. But the rates do show there is a misalignment between high school curriculum and college expectations, he said. It also shows the importance of the Common Core and having common assessments, he said.

“All of the school districts in Montgomery County are working on this issue,” he said. “The problem we have here is they are moving from a high school graduation culture, which was the 20th century model, to a college and career readiness model, which is the 21st century. And you just don’t instantly move a school district.”

Lasley said some people say that not every student needs to go to college, but, “That’s not what we’re talking about.”

“We’re talking about every kid having college and career-ready skills. This is about every kid graduating with sufficient skills to be able to have a living wage job and have the skills to be able to migrate from job to job. And the superintendents, I think, are trying to really, really figure that out,” he said.

Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop said a combination of efforts help improve his district’s remediation rate to 66 percent from 70 percent in 2011.

Four years ago, Springfield launched a Learning Café, which offers remedial education, extra classes and the chance to meet college representatives for students and adults in the community. The café is open until 8:30 p.m. and offers free transportation, free child care and free evening meals.

Springfield also assess students on their goals and whether they are ready for college, and then meets with them individually to discuss their progress, Estrop said. Its two-year-old “navigate success” program also allows students to customize their education with the chance to test out of high school courses, take an internship for credit, complete classes online or pick other options.

Middletown City Schools Superintendent Sam Ison — with a 42 percent remediation rate — said his district now assesses students in the ninth grade to determine whether they will need additional attention in certain subjects in high school. He said Middletown will improve its rate by being more pro-active with students at a younger age.

Hamilton City Schools — where 33 percent of graduates needed remedial classes in college in 2012 — now uses ACT assessments for students in ninth and 10th grades “in order to intervene with students who are not on track for college and career readiness prior to taking the ACT for the first time as juniors,” said Keith Millard, assistant superintendent for instruction. It is training teachers on how to better use that and other test score data in instruction and intervention, as well.

‘Past… hasn’t worked very well’

New initiatives stand to improve Ohio’s remediation rate, state leaders said.

Ohio has remediation-free standards in place now, which guarantee to a student that they will avoid developmental classes if they earned an 18 or higher in English on the ACT, 21 on reading and 22 on math, or reach related scores on the SAT.

Colleges will also likely turn their attention to developmental education with the new completion plans that are due June 30 and under the new formula that funds the institutions based on whether students complete classes and graduate.

“Rethinking remediation is probably going to be on almost everybody’s plan,” said Stephanie Davidson, vice chancellor at the Ohio Board of Regents. “One of the things that we know really impacts completion is whether or not a student starts in developmental or remedial classes. Frankly what we’ve done in the past with these students hasn’t worked very well.”

Changes could also be coming to what math students are required to complete based on their major, Davidson said. The Board of Regents is expected to release recommendations next month from a committee that has been studying whether current math requirements are appropriate.

Sinclair Community College has been on the national forefront of changes to remedial education. As an alternative to traditional semester-long developmental classes, the college offers a week-long bootcamp or accelerated eight-week courses for those who only need a reminder or a brush up, said Kathleen Cleary, associate provost for student completion.

Cleary said the goal is to get students through developmental education in less time, but ensure they are still successful in college-level courses.

Bruce Vandal, vice president of Complete College America, said the nation has made progress to improve remediation — but it remains an important issue because “time is the enemy” to getting students to graduate with a degree.

His group recommends not placing students in traditional remedial classes, but instead putting them in college-level courses with additional help.

“It’s a huge issue, and it’s important to get it right. We’ll work with states on this for as long as it takes,” Vandal said.

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