left behind

What Colorado’s numbers tell us — and don’t tell us — about who needs remedial work in college

D'Evelyn School (Wikipedia)

It’s understandable if you missed the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s latest report on a key measure of how well public high school graduates are prepared for college.

The state’s annual report on remediation rates dropped the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, when folks were thinking more about backyard barbecues than longitudinal trends.

The report warrants attention, however. As Colorado’s state tests have changed over the past decade — making it more difficult to track progress — the remediation report provides consistent data over time.

Not only that, but remediation rates are among the most important measures of how well schools are preparing kids for post-secondary education. This is where falling behind literally costs students — remedial coursework in college isn’t free, and student don’t earn credit for it.

Sure, the remediation data has limitations. The state tracks only students who enroll in Colorado public colleges and universities, meaning students who leave the state or attend private universities in Colorado are not counted.

This year’s report, looking at remediation rates for the high school class of 2014, found that 35.4 percent of graduates needed remedial coursework, up from 34.2 percent the previous year. It was a disappointing step backward following years of positive movement.

The report also underscored longstanding racial disparities. At two-year institutions, 82 percent of black students and almost 70 percent of Hispanic students required remediation. The figures for those racial groups at four-year schools were 52.5 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

Here are a few takeaways from this year’s report, which you can read here:

School-level remediation data is incomplete and district-level numbers are nonexistent.

The state’s data set has plenty of blank spaces. No remediation stats are made public for about 200 high schools. That’s because if a cohort of students numbers 16 or below, state officials obscure that data out of concern that students might be personally identifiable.

Schools without enough data to report include many small schools and alternative schools. (The overall statewide remediation rate does take in students from all schools, including these.)

Of schools with large enough cohorts to be included in the report, Greeley’s Jefferson High School, an alternative school, had the highest remediation rate — 88 percent. As school leaders told The Greeley Tribune, the five-year-old high school is showing improvement.

Six of the 10 schools with the highest remediation rates are in Denver Public Schools, which serves a high proportion of students living in poverty and is the state’s largest school district:

 

DPS calculates remediation rates differently than the state.

For one, the district includes all high school graduates and completers in its calculations — starting with measuring where students are at while they are still in high school — not just those who head off to college.

The state defines students as needing remediation based on scores on tools such as the ACT, SAT or Accuplacer; if they enroll in a remedial course; or if they enroll in a Supplemental Academic Instruction Course while enrolled in a related 100-level course.

Along with some measures used by the state, the district relies on other factors the state doesn’t consider, including grades students get in low-level college courses, as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate scores. As a result, under the DPS definition, fewer students are likely to be identified as needing remedial work.

In a February report to the school board, DPS reported that its district-wide remediation rate had declined from 62 percent for the class of 2014 to 50 percent for the class of 2015.

“We know we have made gains in certain areas,” said Kim Poast, executive director of the district’s Office of College and Career Readiness. “There is still work to do compared to the rest of the state.”

Because the state conceals some schools’ numbers to address privacy concerns, the Colorado Department of Higher Education does not release district-level remediation data, leaving no way of knowing how Colorado school districts compare.

Michael Vente, a research and policy officer/analyst with the State Department of Higher Education, acknowledged this is a key missing piece of information. He said the department plans more detailed discussions of its policy of suppressing data, and in the future would like to provide school districts better information on their performance.

One school in Jefferson County had a remediation rate of 0 percent. No other school in Colorado can make that claim. But should it come with an asterisk?

As principal of D’Evelyn Junior Senior High School, Anthony Edwards has plenty to be proud of.

For 12 years running, the school has had the highest ACT test scores among public, non-charter schools in Colorado. Nearly every D’Evelyn graduate enrolls in college.

“We need engagement from everyone,” Edwards said in explaining the school’s success. “Teachers need to be hardworking, parents need to value and support the school, and students have to be engaged. It takes a team to get the results we’ve been getting.”

This year, D’Evelyn stands alone as the only Colorado high school in the state’s remediation report with a 0 percent remediation rates:

 

As a Jeffco “option school,” students who want to attend must enter a lottery (those who attend a feeder school, Dennison Elementary, have a preference). There’s a liberal arts curriculum, a dress code and a closed campus. Students are required to show courtesy and respect for high moral and ethical standards, and patriotism is emphasized.

A statement explaining the school’s philosophy describes a program “based on the belief that all students, not just an elite group, should be held to rigorous academic and behavioral standards, and that all students can achieve in a challenging program.”

D’Evelyn’s student makeup does not, however, represent the increasing diversity of Jefferson County, especially socioeconomically.

Last school year, about 6 percent of D’Evelyn students qualified for a government-subsidized lunch, a proxy for poverty, state data shows. About 31 percent of Jeffco students do. The free and reduced- price lunch population of Dennison Elementary is similarly low.

According to state figures, about 53 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches need remediation, while 31 percent of those who don’t qualify need remediation.

Geography is one reason for D’Evelyn’s school makeup. The school is in the wealthier southwest suburbs. Transportation is likely one hurdle for low-income families, said Edwards, who previously worked at Jefferson High School, which has a high number of poor students.

Edwards was quick to say that D’Evelyn does not prescreen its students, a claim from those skeptical about its impressive track record. The school does no marketing or recruitment.

A couple of years ago, Jeffco staff asked whether the school would participate in an event showcasing options in the district. Edwards said the school chose not to send a representative.

Asked whether the school’s small number of students living in poverty is a concern, Edwards said he expects the ranks of those students to grow as the county changes. The school, he said, has taken steps to prepare, including creating a peer mentoring program and tutoring.

“Some of the discussions we’ve had is, ‘How do we maintain our expectations as our populations and demographics switch?’” he said.

As is the case with traditional district-run schools, charter schools run the spectrum.

DSST, the Denver-grown charter network that is poised for a big expansion, had the lowest remediation rates in the city and the 13th lowest in the state: about 15 percent, according to the state report. That falls short of the state’s DSST numbers for the class of 2013 (7.5 percent) and 2012 (11 percent).

More striking were the poor results for KIPP, part of a national network of high-performing charter schools founded in the mid-1990s by two Teach for America corps members. State data showed 70 percent of 2014 KIPP Denver Collegiate High School graduates (or 21 of 30 students) required remediation.

Kimberlee Sia
Kimberlee Sia

Kimberlee Sia, executive director of KIPP Colorado Schools, said school officials were taken aback by the dip because of progress in other measures such as dropout, graduation and its internal remediation rates, which like DPS numbers are calculated differently.

Some KIPP graduates — including those who enrolled in the Community College of Denver — and others enrolled in technical colleges weren’t included in the state tally, Sia said.

KIPP has taken a number of steps to address remediation rates, she said, including tutoring, a greater focus on citing evidence in writing and interim assessments starting in ninth grade.

Schools under the state Charter School Institute — which has authority over charter schools not overseen by districts — could be found on both ends of the remediation spectrum.

Colorado Springs Early Colleges’ remediation rate was just 8 percent – the fifth best rate in the state. The school has a free-and-reduced-price-lunch student population of about 30 percent. Pinnacle Charter School, which has been operating nearly two decades in north Denver, had a rate of 67 percent. About 60 percent of students there qualify for subsidized lunches.

beyond high school

Tennessee leads nation in FAFSA filings for third straight year

PHOTO: TN.gov
Bill Haslam has been Tennessee's governor since 2011.

Equipping more Tennesseans with the tools to succeed after high school has been a hallmark of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. And the efforts seem to be paying off as the governor heads into his final 18 months in office.

Haslam announced on Thursday that the state has set another new record for the number of high school seniors filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA.

With 73.5 percent completing the form for the upcoming academic year — an increase of 3.2 percent from last year — Tennessee led the nation in FAFSA filings for the third straight year, according to the governor’s office.

The increase isn’t surprising, given that students had a longer period to fill out the form last year. In order to make the process more user-friendly, the FAFSA window opened on Oct. 1 instead of Jan. 1.

But the increase remains significant. The FAFSA filing rate is one indicator that more students are pursuing educational opportunities beyond a high school diploma.

Getting students ready for college and career has been a major focus under Haslam, a businessman and former Knoxville mayor who became governor in 2011. He launched his Drive to 55 initiative in 2013 with the goal that at least 55 percent of Tennesseans will have postsecondary degrees or other high-skill job certifications by 2025.

“The continued surge in FAFSA filing rates shows the Drive to 55 is changing the college-going culture in Tennessee,” Haslam said in a news release. “First-time freshman enrollment in Tennessee has grown 13 percent in the past two years and more students than ever are going to college. As a state, we have invested in making college accessible and open to everyone and students are hearing the message.”

According to calculations from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee led all states by a large margin this year. The closest states or districts were Washington D.C., 64.8 percent; Delaware, 61.6 percent; New Jersey, 61 percent; and Massachusetts, 60.4 percent.

The commission calculated the filing rates using data provided through June 30 from the U.S. Department of Education.

Filing the FAFSA is a requirement to qualify for both state and federal financial aid and is part of the application process for most colleges and universities across the nation.

To get more students to complete the form, state and local FAFSA drives have been organized in recent years to connect Tennessee students with resources, guidance and encouragement.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has championed bipartisan efforts to simplify the FAFSA process. The Tennessee Republican and former governor introduced legislation in 2015 that would reduce the FAFSA paperwork from a hefty 108 questions down to two pertaining to family size and household income.

You can read more information about the FAFSA in Tennessee here.

First Person

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

High schools have become obsessed with “million-dollar scholars,” and it’s hurting students.

Across Memphis, students often are pushed by counselors to apply to as many colleges as possible — as many as 100 — all to push students to reach that million-dollar scholarship mark. The more dollars and college acceptance, the better!

I graduated in 2016, and my experience offers a case study.

I’m a pretty well-rounded individual: In high school, I was a finalist in the Let’s Innovate Through Education program and was able to launch SousChef-Memphis, a culinary nonprofit organization. I was a dual-enrollment student and took honors courses. I was committed to community service. I was vice president of my high school organization, Modern Distinctive Ladies. I was on the bowling team, managed the basketball team, and participated in debate forensics and drama.

I was also told by counselors to apply to 100 colleges. I was never told why that number was chosen, but my peers were told the same. We were often pulled out of class to complete these applications, which took away from instructional time — about an hour per day. My high school also ran on an infraction system, and not turning in college applications and other documents led to disciplinary actions.

The quality of those applications only shed a dim light on the student and person that I am. A hundred applications was never my goal. A hundred applications doesn’t measure the capability, intelligence or worth of me as a student. A hundred applications is just ridiculous!

Schools with similar approaches, though, get glowing media coverage. Meanwhile, a lot of that scholarship money is irrelevant, since a single student obviously can only attend one school.

I think that if I had been counseled properly, I would have had a better grasp on my high school-to-college transition. I ultimately chose to leave Memphis to attend another state university on a full scholarship. Looking back, that school was not the best fit for me. I returned to Memphis to attend our local public university.

A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.

I was more than capable of getting back on track, and I did. But not every student can afford to go through what I went through.

High schools need to realize that, while students amassing millions of dollars in scholarships and hundreds of college acceptance letters seems like an accomplishment, the outcome for many students is the total opposite.

Too many students end up not going to a school that is the best fit for them, taking on piles of debt, and dropping out with no workforce experience.

The goal should be that each high school student will graduate having a grasp on their career path (and experience in that field), scholarships to the school of their choice (full rides or little to no debt), and be confident in where they will be spending the next four to six years of their life. Being thorough in the college search and submitting quality applications is what leads to a college that is the best fit for the student, obtaining scholarships, and ultimately graduating.

Here’s what I wish a counselor had told me:

"It is time to start thinking about quality over quantity. Quality counseling. Quality applications. And quality choices about what to do next."Anisah Karim

Try things you like, but don’t overload yourself. Look for summer internships that pay, rather than minimum-wage jobs. Build a network of people who can help you make good decisions about college and work. Research schools with a major you’re interested in, and find out what scholarships they offer. Keep an eye on your GPA and make sure you’re taking the classes you need to graduate. Apply for colleges when applications open and submit the FAFSA form in October.

And most importantly, through all four years of high school, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

It is time to start thinking about quality over quantity. Quality counseling. Quality applications. And quality choices about what to do next.

Anisah Karim is a psychology student at the University of Memphis. She plans to continue her education in speech pathology and otology and eventually start her own private practice. She also plans to launch two new business ventures in the fall and relaunch SousChef in the fall of 2018.