READY OR NOT?

A three-year, in-depth look by Columbus area educators examining why some Indiana students arrive at college needing remediation will soon be shared with local teachers and school corporations.

The Southeast Indiana Postsecondary Regional Partnership — with representatives from higher education, school corporations and parents — has come up with a draft of academic and learning skills that high school students need to master before graduation in order to avoid being assigned remedial classes as college freshmen.

The work to align high school coursework with college readiness was funded through a $36,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation in partnership with The Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

The Southeast group is made up of representatives from Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., Decatur County Community Schools and Jac-Cen-Del Community School Corp. in Osgood, in Ripley County. The school districts were selected based on size, with BCSC being the largest, and Jac-Cen-Del being the smallest. The idea behind having representatives from three sizes of school corporations is that the group’s conclusions could apply to any size school in Indiana.

The high school representatives are working with the Center for Teaching and Learning at IUPUC along with Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus.

The local partnership isn’t the only group working on this type of project.

Indiana State University is working with Terre Haute schools, and Purdue University-Calumet has a similar project with northwestern Indiana schools to help high school coursework correspond more directly to what students must know before entering college.

Rather than calling their work a research study, IUPUC’s Cathy Brown said the collaboration was more about answering the question, “What is it when students hit calculus or finite math in college and it knocks them for a loop?”

The group found that Indiana’s current standards in math and English for the lowest general high school diploma, and even the mid-range Core 40 diploma, are not rigorous enough for some students to avoid remediation when entering college.

Heading for remediation

In the most recent data available, from the 2013 graduating class, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education found about one-fourth of Indiana’s recent high school graduates who enrolled in Indiana’s public colleges needed remedial English or math courses before taking college-level courses.

In Bartholomew County, the 2013 remediation rate for Columbus North students was 23 percent, and East was 35 percent, according to the latest percentages in the Indiana College Readiness Report.

Bill Jenson, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. director of secondary education, said those percentages have been fairly stable during the past few years that the Indiana Commission for Higher Education has been tracking the number of Indiana high school students taking remedial courses.

Most of the remediation for Columbus high school students is occurring in math, Jensen said. Most universities rely on SAT scores for writing levels but give a placement test for math proficiency.

Meeting a university’s math standard can be a moving target, Jensen said, as not all college math placement tests are the same and some are tougher than others.

Jensen said the focus at both Columbus high schools is to encourage college-bound students to take four years of math no matter what college they plan to attend.

Some of the students who end up in remediation opt out of a higher-level math course their senior year, Jensen said. Students who take that year off sometimes get rusty and forget a great deal that they need for that college math placement test, he said.

The high schools’ second strategy is to improve the quality of instruction for all math courses so students realize they aren’t just learning to pass a math test and forgetting the concepts, Jensen said. Through the school corporation’s Universal Design Learning, which is a set of principles for curriculum development to give all individuals equal opportunities to learn, high school math teachers put math concepts into meaningful context about how it will be used in the future.

Another suggestion being given to local high school students is advising them to plan their placement test for a time other than a campus visit, when students plan schedules, complete registration and take tours.

Sometimes, students are ushered into a room in the midst of the stresses of that process and are given their math placement test, Jensen said, which often isn’t the optimal time for a student to do well.

Some universities, including Purdue, allow students to do placement tests online, which may be a less stressful and a better option for many students, Jensen said.

Remediation and costs

Remediation is a serious issue for college freshman. It adds to the number of courses students must take and, as a result, increases their costs. Having to do remedial work sometimes affects whether a student decides to stay in college.

Delayed graduation for students who had to take remedial courses is even more of a problem for those relying on financial aid, which will pay for remedial courses but runs out after four years.

Leigh Britt, an IUPUC math professor, said the group’s research, based on 2012 state data, showed that about 40 percent of Indiana’s Core 40 graduates needed remedial courses as college freshmen. The new Indiana College Readiness data, released March 2, shows 33 percent of 2013 Core 40 diploma recipients required remediation.

“As a parent, you’re being told this prepares them for college,” Britt said of the Core 40 diploma. “But 40 percent (with this degree in 2012) are showing up at college not prepared.”

The general diploma statistics are even more sobering. Nearly 78 percent of those 2012 graduates needed remediation before starting college. The 2013 number was reported at 67 percent.

At the other end of the scale, only 7 percent of Honors diploma recipients, the toughest diploma designation to obtain, required remediation. That percentage was down to 5 percent in the 2013 numbers.

Be prepared

One theory as to why Indiana high school graduates are struggling is that more than academic achievement is necessary, Britt told the group. She worked on the math area of the college readiness equation.

“It was sort of an ‘aha’ moment for the math folks when it was put forward that not just content knowledge but understanding the habits of the mind and students’ dispositions toward learning that is also critical,” she said.

She explained that students have to know the importance of showing up for class every day with a pencil, doing their homework and being prepared to ask questions.

But academic preparation is also an issue, said Marsha VanNahmen, IUPUC Center for Teaching and Learning assistant director. Some students in middle school take algebra in seventh or eighth grade, and with three years of math opt out of a high-level math course such as calculus during their senior year, she said.

When these students take their math placement test for college, they could be a little rusty and end up in remediation, she said.

The state has recognized the trend of some Indiana students avoiding higher-level math courses and now requires four years of math for the Core 40 diploma, something that might reduce the remediation numbers, Britt said. Four years of English already are required.

Teachers who worked on the English/language arts section said the lists of what students needed to be prepared or exceptionally prepared for college would be helpful in determining course content and direction.

Value in course quality

Course quality and the expertise of the teacher providing quality classroom instruction also are key in preparing high school students for college work, Jensen said.

It’s far too easy to obtain a general diploma, and there are way too many students taking the easy way out and obtaining it, he said.

In 2013, 67 percent of Indiana high school graduates who obtained the general diploma needed remedial courses before taking college coursework, according to the higher education commission.

And the tougher Core 40 diploma requirements may not be the problem, he said. It may be the quality of instruction for those requirements with some students being allowed to skim through courses without meeting expectations or challenging themselves with tougher course choices.

Part of the problem may be that the state has emphasized improving high school graduation rates, and one way to get the rate up is to use the general diploma standards so more students graduate, Brown said.

Allowing students to graduate with different course requirements, with the lowest diploma being the easiest to obtain, does raise the graduation rate but not the success rate in college, she said.

Next steps

Now that the group has a draft of the academic concepts and the skills, habits and attitudes needed for college readiness, the next step is to put its work into a form that parents and students can understand, Brown said.

The group is considering putting the information on a website in more parent-friendly wording so families can evaluate their students’ academic progress and where to focus on high school course selection and mastery of skills.

Putting the information in the hands of guidance counselors was mentioned, and some group members want to find a way to share it with area sixth-graders, who could absorb what skills they need to have far before they reach high school.

The group also is mulling having the information as a handout for the 21st Century Scholars, a program for middle school students in federal free- and reduce-price lunch programs who can receive a full-ride college scholarship if they attend an in-state public college. The students must graduate, stay crime- and drug-free, meet financial aid and application guidelines and apply for admission to college.

The possibility of creating a high school course where students could take remedial work for college before graduating from high school also is being proposed.

A final report is due on the project in November, Brown said. Through the spring, the panelists will work to streamline their findings into a format that parents and students can understand and use and work to distribute it to area high schools, she said.

What the partnership did

The Southeast Indiana Postsecondary Regional Partnership has been working to identify the most critical academic concepts students need to know to be college-ready. The process began in the spring of 2012, and a final report is to be completed by November. A $36,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation funded the study.

Partnership members

The Southeast Indiana Postsecondary Regional Partnership is made up of The Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning as the project management organization, partnering with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Regional partners, who have representatives working within the partnership, are:

  • IUPUC
  • Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus
  • Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.
  • Decatur County Community Schools
  • Jac-Cen-Del Community School Corp.

To learn more

For more information about The Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at University of Indianapolis, which is the project manager for the local effort to create greater alignment between K-12 and higher education, and initiatives at Indiana State and Purdue University-Calumet, visit cell.uindy.edu/

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.