At Tuesday’s State Board of Education work session, State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice shared his plans for helping Alabama’s high school graduates avoid unnecessary remedial classes in college.
While Alabama’s high school graduation rate has soared from 72% in 2011 to a record-high 86% in 2014, the college remediation rate has been more difficult to get moving in the right direction.
The remediation rate refers to the percentage of students who graduate from an Alabama public high school in the spring of one year, and then enroll in remedial math or English at their college during their freshman year. The measure only takes into account students who are enrolled in Alabama public two- or four-year colleges and universities.
Both the graduation and remediation rates are measurements included in Plan 2020, the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) strategic plan for public education.
The ALSDE’s target for the overall remediation rate for 2014 was 23%, but the actual rate was 32.1%, up from 31.8% from 2013.
Bice began the discussion by announcing he was getting on his “soapbox”.
“I don’t have any qualms about being held responsible for something I can clearly define and work toward,” he began, adding that if the K-12 system was going to be responsible for reducing the remediation rate, a common definition of readiness was necessary.
Bice told the board that he discovered that 70% of students who are enrolled in remedial classes are enrolled in two-year public community colleges and that “of the 26 community colleges, there are about 26 different iterations of what remediation means.”
Just last week, the Alabama School Connection published an article highlighting which high schools are graduating students who then need remedial math and/or English classes in college. The lack of a common set of metrics to determine which students need remedial coursework was also highlighted.
To better articulate what the lack of having a common definition means, Bice shared an example of three Alabama public high school graduates who met the exact same expectations and made the exact same grades but depending on which Alabama public two-year college each student chose to attend, one student might find himself in remedial classes where the other two could enroll in non-remedial courses.
Remedial classes do not count toward a student’s degree nor qualify as transfer credits, yet the cost of the course is the same.
Bice then shared that he had done a review and found that the majority of people teaching remedial courses in the two-year system were adjunct teachers earning minimal salaries. These teachers are teaching the most at-risk students, and those classes are being taught in massive numbers.
While making clear that he was “not saying anybody is doing anything right, wrong, or whatever”, he also pointed out that in many cases, financial aid pays for remedial courses.
In last week’s article, we asserted that with more than 10,000 remedial courses taken by the Alabama high school class of 2014, the cost of that remediation could add up to more than $18 million for Alabama’s students.
Bice stated that Alabama Community College System Chancellor Mark Heinrich agrees there is an opportunity to clarify the expectations that community colleges have of Alabama public high school graduates. Heinrich has agreed to a common definition in concept, according to Bice.
Bice told the board that a group of higher education faculty members had reviewed the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards and had declared that those standards are now aligned with what colleges expect students to have learned in order to be college-ready.
The conclusion that group drew from the review is that if a student graduates from an Alabama public high school with a grade of “C” or higher in Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II (or its equivalent) and in English, that student is college-ready and there should be no requirement for extra testing nor a need for developmental or remedial courses.
Bice told the board he plans to bring a resolution to them at August’s board meeting to approve a recommendation to the new two-year college board that they accept that definition of college-readiness for Alabama’s high school graduates and that the two-year board adopt that definition for all two-year colleges in Alabama.
State Board of Education member Dr. Cynthia McCarty, a professor at Jacksonville State University, expressed her excitement that the state board was willing to tackle this issue.
“The cost (of remedial classes) to students in college, and not just the physical and financial cost but the mental anguish they face” when having to enroll in remedial education is a real problem for students entering college, McCarty said.
“Our students will benefit so much from (the work we’re doing on this),” she added.
Bice said, “It’s not gonna be popular with everybody, but it’s right for kids, so that’s why we’re gonna do it.”
[This is a really big deal, folks. Stay tuned.]
Here’s the full discussion from Tuesday’s work session.