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.

new chapter

Kristina Johnson appointed chancellor of SUNY as state’s controversial free tuition plan kicks in

Kristina Johnson, the newly appointed chancellor of SUNY.

Kristina Johnson was named chancellor of the state’s public college system, SUNY announced Monday, a job that will include shepherding New York’s brand new college affordability plan.

“I’m very excited and grateful to be here and [have] the opportunity to serve a system and a state whose governor has put higher education front and center in his agenda,” Johnson said.

An engineer by training, Johnson is currently CEO of a company that focuses on providing clean energy to communities and businesses and served as under-secretary of energy for President Barack Obama. Previously, she was the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University.

Johnson, who starts in September, will replace Nancy Zimpher, who will step down in June after an eight-year stint at the top of the state university system. Zimpher was known for casting SUNY as an institution driving economic growth, and for trying to elevate the teaching profession through a program called TeachNY.

As chancellor, Johnson will oversee a system that served 1.3 million students in 2015-16. And as colleges across the country grapple with issues raised by student debt, Johnson takes the helm at a significant moment.

The state’s new Excelsior Scholarship will provide free tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for families earning less than $125,000 per year. Governor Andrew Cuomo has hailed the scholarship as a national milestone in the free college movement. But experts have raised questions about whether the plan’s rules, including strict credit requirements and a requirement to stay in-state after graduation, will limit the number of students who can take advantage of it.

Johnson did not share any of those criticisms when interviewed by the New York Times in an article Monday, calling the scholarship “outrageously ambitious.”

In a statement, Zimpher praised her soon-to-be replacement. “The future of SUNY is indeed bright under the leadership of Dr. Johnson.”

critics of cuomo

CUNY students join chorus of protests against Cuomo’s ‘hypocritical’ college tuition plan

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address.

Representatives from the University Student Senate of CUNY — the very demographic who should benefit from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tuition plan — are joining protests against the “hypocritical” plan Tuesday afternoon, according to a press release from the Alliance for Quality Education.

The protest by AQE, an organization that has long criticized the governor, is the latest in a round of backlash against Cuomo’s free college tuition plan. The New York Times has been highly critical of the plan on its opinion pages. Experts have questioned whether the plan will leave students with surprise loans instead of reducing student debt. One lawmaker has already promised to introduce legislation that would rid the law of one of its most controversial requirements.

Cuomo unveiled the proposal to provide free college tuition in January while standing next to Senator Bernie Sanders, who championed the idea of free college during his run for president. When the dust settled on the budget process earlier this month, the state created the Excelsior Scholarship, which is supposed to provide free college tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for students from families making less than $125,000 per year.

But it wasn’t long before the details of the plan led to questions — and criticism. As Chalkbeat has reported, the plan will do little to help the lowest-income students, who already receive enough state and federal financial aid to cover the cost of tuition, but often need help paying for things like rent and books.

The plan requires students to take 30 credits per year and graduate on time, even though the majority of SUNY and CUNY students don’t graduate on time. It does not cover part-time students, which make up about a third of the SUNY and CUNY population.

The final straw for many was a requirement that students live and work in-state after graduation for the same number of years as they received the “Excelsior” scholarship. If they do not, the scholarship will turn into student loans, as Chalkbeat pointed out last Monday.

Cuomo has defended himself against these arguments.

“My point is very simple: These are public colleges and they should be open to the public,” Cuomo said. “Ideally they should be free. We can’t get there, but this is a first step.”