Forty percent of Colo. grads need remediation

Forty percent of Colorado’s class of 2011 enrolled in a Colorado college or university needed remedial education courses in at least one subject in order to catch up to college-level work, according to a report released Tuesday by the Department of Higher Education.

Middle school math classroom
Kearney Middle School teacher Jordan Siebenaller works out problems with sixth-graders Orlando Ramirez (left) and Noelani Schumpf (right). Teachers screen students in sixth and seventh grade with potential for college and enroll them in online remedial math courses that are part of the federal GEAR UP program, which provides early remediation and support students years before they start college.

That’s a slight decrease from last year, when 41 percent of first-year college students needed extra help in the core subjects of reading, writing or math.

Despite the decrease, the new figures may jolt school board members, school and college leaders, policy wonks and parents. That’s because the state has changed the way it calculates remediation rates with the aim of making them more accurate. But by doing so, remediation rates for students from many districts look much worse.

“Increased remedial rates are not a reflection of a higher number of students needing remediation but are an example of improved data quality and measurement,” the report states.

Using the old methodology a year ago, only 31 percent of Colorado grads required remediation in at least one college course.

Under the new calculations, nearly two-thirds of Colorado high school graduates students enrolled in a state community college needed remedial coursework, compared to almost a quarter of those at a four-year institution. And most of these students required remediation in math — or 51 percent. Nearly a third of students needed remediation in writing, and 18 percent needed reading help. About 1 in 3 students need math remediation at the lowest level.

Remediation rates both reflect the quality of a high school curriculum and can portend a student’s ability to complete college in four years — if at all. For low-income students racking up debt to fulfill a college dream, required extra coursework and struggles to finish can create economic hardships. For Colorado employers, high remediation rates could mean fewer qualified and homegrown job candidates.

Financial aid does not cover remedial courses and students do not earn college credit for the courses. State policy requires that remediation must be completed within the first 30 credit hours.

The estimated total cost associated with remedial courses was approximately $58 million in 2011-12, with the largest portion of that paid in student tuition — or about $39 million. The state covered the remainder of the bill — or $19 million.

In the past, remediation rates were calculated based on student results on exams that indicated a student needed remedial courses. Students are screened on the front end based on lower ACT or SAT scores. State officials would start at the college level and work backward to try to figure out where the student attended high school.

This year the Department of Higher Ed tweaked its formula for calculating the rates. The changes and new figures were discussed  Tuesday at a press conference at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City, a school that is part of the federal GEAR UP program, which provides support for college-bound students, including counseling and remediation beginning in eighth grade.

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia described the state as a leader in remediation reform by identifying students who need support much earlier and getting them through remedial courses successfully quicker.

At Rangeview High School in Aurora, for instance, students are able to complete remedial courses while still in high school.

“We have taken a hard look at where incoming eighth-graders are and placing them — according to data — where they need to be,” Rangeview Principal Ron Fay said at the news conference. “In the past kids fell through the cracks and were placed in higher level math classes than their skills allowed them to be successful at.”

Lauren Sisneros, pre-collegiate advisor for the Colorado GEAR UP program at Kearney, said as of April 1, 689 eighth- and ninth-graders in a dozen schools were participating in a new online remedial math course developed in partnership with faculty at Adams State University. So far, 100 students have completed one class, but by year’s end that figure is expected to rise to 187. Some 62 students are expected to finish their second remedial math course this year; and one student will have completed three by year’s end.

“Our focus is to close Colorado’s achievement gap, and help students successfully obtain a college degree,” Sisneros said.

A change in calculations

This year, rather than tracking students by looking back at their academic records, the state is starting fresh by focusing on a single graduating class — beginning with the class of 2011 — and tracking it forward. Not only is the state tracking test results that indicate a need for remediation, officials are now capturing students who are actually in enrolled in remedial classes — students who may have been missed in the old system. Of those students who took remedial courses, 59 percent completed courses successfully.

“We’re capturing kids that are enrolled in classes we hadn’t been counting,” said  Julie McCluskie, spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor, who oversees the Department of Higher Ed. “Those kids are demographically spread out from all school districts in the state.”

The new formula makes some districts look better — or worse — than they did before.

Larger districts, such as Greeley and Pueblo, saw the percentage of their graduates who need remedial coursework increase under the new calculations.

Aurora Public Schools, by contrast, saw improvement at all four of its high schools whose data was reported. That could be due to the district’s heavy emphasis on concurrent enrollment, which allows — and encourages — students to take college courses and earn college credit while still in high school.

Districts with the lowest remedial rates included Cheyenne Mountain 12 (15 percent) and the Boulder Valley School District (23 percent). The Adams 14 School district reported the highest remediation rate at 81 percent, followed among larger districts by Mapleton Public Schools at 65 percent. Thirty-four school districts with publicly reportable data had remediation rates of 50 percent or higher.

Remedial rates by high school ranged from a low of 2.2 percent at D’Evelyn Senior High School in the Jefferson County School District to a high of 95 percent at Emily Griffith Opportunity School in Denver Public Schools.

While not all districts look good, McCluskie said the Department of Higher Education had seen little pushback from districts on the new calculations.

“Everyone agrees with new method,” she said. “Nobody has questioned how we’re doing it. We’re making sure people understand the change.”

The new data set will help educators and policymakers pinpoint which schools’ graduates enter college prepared enough to bypass remedial courses and then dig into what those schools are doing, so that information can be shared.

Alternatives to remedial ed?

State officials and school leaders are also exploring other ways to help students get the support they need in college, such as more labs that connect directly to a specific course; or creating different pathways – particularly in STEM fields – for students. For instance, a student majoring in sociology may not need the same level of math as someone pursuing a degree in physics.

There is also a gender component to remediation. Female students — 42 percent — were more likely to need remediation than male students — 37 percent. More than half of those students requiring remedial coursework are women.

By ethnicity, black students had the highest remediation rates, followed by Hispanic students. According to the report, 90 percent of black students at two-year colleges and 56 percent of black students at four-year institutions needed remediation. That compares to  nearly 78 percent of Hispanic enrollees at two-year institutions who required remedial courses compared to 40 percent of Hispanic students at four-year institutions.

One reason the new approach to data is happening now is that Colorado has put a major emphasis on sharing data between the K-12 and college systems. State officials also crunched data using the new formula for the past three years to spot trends and to limit confusion with numbers released one year ago.

The new data only reflects students who attend public colleges in Colorado and excludes those who leave the state for higher education.

For instance, 57 percent of 2011 graduates enrolled in a postsecondary institution in Colorado or another state in the fall immediately after they graduated. And of those 2011 graduates who enrolled in college, 79 percent chose to attend a Colorado college or university, while 21 percent left Colorado for college.

2012 Legislative Report on Remedial Education by EdNews

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

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

“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.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”