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

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.