It has become the mission of public schools, and measures of student readiness are used to judge whether schools are being successful in that mission.
But what does “career- and college-ready” mean?
Google it, and you’ll find twenty different answers. [This is the most comprehensive gathering of definitions I could find.]
Measures of career-readiness are hard to come by, but measures of college-readiness are everywhere.
According to ACT, the testing organization, college-readiness can be measured on its tests. Its classic college-entrance exam, The ACT, sets benchmarks for college-readiness and claims that students who reach those benchmark scores have “approximately a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course or courses.”
ACT PLAN and 11th-grade ACT results show that the majority of Alabama’s 10th and 11th graders are in danger of not reaching those benchmarks. Both grades are tested to determine what work remains to be done to help students meet those benchmarks.
Those measures show that of last year’s 10th graders, set to graduate in spring 2017, nearly 80% are in danger of not meeting the benchmark in math and nearly 60% are in danger of not meeting the benchmark in English.
Of last year’s 11th graders, set to graduate in later this spring (2016), 81% are in danger of not meeting the math benchmark and 55% are in danger of not meeting the English benchmark.
And ACT results from last year’s 12th graders, who graduated in the spring of 2015, showed that 77% didn’t meet the math benchmark and 47% didn’t meet the English benchmark.
However, there’s another measure that appears to show that Alabama’s high school graduates are entering college more ready for academic classes than those ACT test results lead us to believe.
That measure is the percentage of graduates that end up taking a remedial class in either math or English or both during their first semester of college in Alabama’s two- and four-year public colleges. That measure is the remediation rate.
College remediation rates are of great concern nationally, as states grapple with “paying twice” for students to take courses in high school only to repeat them again in college.
Research also shows that students who take remedial classes are less likely to ever graduate from college.
So what’s the connection between ACT benchmarks and college remediation?
For many colleges, if a student earns a certain score (maybe the ACT benchmark score, maybe a different score) on the ACT, the student avoids remediation and is placed into college-level classes. More on that connection in a moment.
The Class of 2015 Remediation Rate
Of the 48,416 students in the class of 2015, 24,063 graduates enrolled in an Alabama public two- or four-year college.
Of those 24,063 college enrollees, 7,325, or 30.4%, enrolled in a remedial math or English class in the fall of 2015.
That rate is down by 1.7% from a rate of 32.1% for the class of 2014.
That’s good news for state education officials trying to move the needle on that stubborn measure.
When asked about the lower remediation rate for the class of 2015, State Superintendent Dr. Bice emailed this statement,
“This new data from ACHE (the Alabama Commission on Higher Education) confirms that our three part plan of PLAN 2020 – increase the graduation rate, assure students are college and career ready and decrease the remediation rate – is coming together and moving in a positive trajectory as planned. It is now our challenge to stay the course as we make adjustments to accelerate the progress.”
In spite of the overall drop, students entering two-year colleges were three times more likely to be placed in remedial classes (45.1%, down from 46.6% the previous year) than students entering four-year colleges (15.6%, down from 16.2% the previous year).
Some of that difference may have to do with defining what “college-ready” means and determining exactly who needs remediation in college.
A Common Definition of Remediation
Finding a common definition of remediation has been a struggle in Alabama, as it has across the country. While two-year colleges may share the same definition among themselves, it is unclear how that definition is tied to ACT college-ready benchmarks and what is actually being taught to students in Alabama’s K-12 schools.
Four-year public colleges and universities all have different entry requirements, with some using a benchmark score in a subject from the ACT and others requiring students to take a placement test.
That problem could be fixed for two-year colleges, as Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) introduced HB125 that will require the Alabama State Board of Education, the trustees of the Alabama Community College System, and ACHE to “jointly define remediation and the process of remediation to be utilized” by December 31, 2016. Collins’ bill has made its way through the House, and is awaiting action by the full Senate.
ACT College-Readiness and Remediation Rates
Remember those 12th grade ACT results for the 48,416 students in the class of 2015, which showed that 77% of graduates weren’t college-ready in math and 47% weren’t college-ready in English?
As it turns out, despite the dismal outlook, only 25% of Alabama public college enrollees needed remediation in math and only 16% needed remediation in English.
Either something magical happened after graduation, over the summer, and before those students enrolled for classes in the fall, or there’s a disconnect.
Sure, it could be that those that weren’t college-ready weren’t among the 24,063 graduates that enrolled in Alabama’s colleges.
It could be that maybe those that weren’t college-ready were some of the 24,353 that didn’t enroll in an Alabama college. But we know that at least a portion of those students enrolled in either a private college or went to college out-of-state…where we can’t track their progress.
That disconnect makes it difficult to make any large-scale assumptions about the college-readiness of Alabama’s high school graduates.
That deserves its own discussion. A story for another day.
Digging Into Alabama’s Remediation Rates
Before you dig into the interactive below, here’s a roundup of a few facts and a couple of graphs about the class of 2015 and their entry into Alabama’s public colleges.
- Of the 48,416 graduates of the class of 2015, 24,063 enrolled in Alabama’s public 2- and 4-year colleges.
- Of the 24,063 graduates who enrolled in Alabama public 2- and 4-year colleges, 7,325, or 30.4% of them took a remedial class in either math, English, or both.
- Of the 12,085 graduates who enrolled in an Alabama 2-year college, 5,453, or 45.1% of them took a remedial class in either math, English, or both.
- Of the 11,978 graduates who enrolled in an Alabama 4-year college, 1,872, or 15.6% of them took a remedial class in either math, English, or both.
- Even though nearly 700 more 2015 graduates enrolled in an Alabama public college, the total number of students placed in remedial classes dropped by nearly 200 from the class of 2014 to the class of 2015.
The Alabama School Connection has published remedial rates by school since the class of 2012 entered college, but as our data visualization skills have improved over the years, the compilation below might prove easier to navigate.
There are a number of ways to view the information below. Each dot represents a school that had a 12th grade graduating class.
The color of the dot indicates the remediation rate: the darker the red, the higher the rate.
If you wish to narrow down the view to high schools by the number of graduates (e.g., look at only high schools who graduated less than 100 students), the number of students enrolling in an Alabama college (e.g., look at only high schools who sent 50 or more students to college), or by the remediation rate itself (e.g., look at only high schools with a 50% or higher remediation rate), use the sliders in each visualization.
In addition, you can choose to only view certain school systems and/or schools.
Be sure to use the zoom tool on the map to get a closer view in a particular geographic area. And once you’re zoomed in, you can click on a high school to see all of the other schools with graduates in that system.
Hover over the dot for more information about the remediation rates for the school.
The maps are broken up by (1) Total remediation rate (blending two- and four-year Alabama public college enrollees), (2) Four-year college remediation rates, and (3) Two-year college remediation rates.
The first visualization depicts total remediation rates for two- and four-year colleges.
This one shows only the remediation rates at four-year Alabama public colleges.
This final one shows only the remediation rates at two-year Alabama public colleges.
Quick Related Reads
The Myth of the College Ready Student, Inside Higher Ed, March 21, 2016
Ask the Administrator: What Does “College Ready” Mean?, Inside Higher Ed, August 2012
Tuition and Fees and Room and Board over Time, 1975-76 to 2015-16, Selected Years, College Board, accessed March 22, 2016
Data Tools for Further Research
College and Career Readiness Center, American Institutes for Research, State Comparison Tool
College Going Rates by High School, Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, December 2015 (for the class of 2014)
How Are States Reporting on College and Career Readiness?, American Institutes for Research, August 2015