More students need remedial help
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 13, 2007

Josh Kelley

A large percentage of Mesa graduates are taking remedial courses as college freshmen, a troubling statewide trend that educators say they're tackling with plans to require three years of math in high school and early testing to assess students' skill levels before college.

The problem is more pronounced in math than in English.

About 43 percent of 2005 Mesa high school graduates who enrolled in Maricopa Community Colleges the following school year took math courses below the college algebra level. In English, only about 13 percent took a remedial course. To address the problem, Mesa Public Schools and Mesa Community College are piloting a program at Mesa High where some of the schools'
juniors later this month will take community college placement tests a year early.

The idea is to give students a wake-up call about where they stand academically, said Joseph Pearson, extended campus director and dean of instruction for MCC.

"Lots of high school students in their senior year think, 'There's nothing really that I need to do,' or 'I'm not going to devote that much time,'"
Pearson said.

The placement testing could be expanded to include selected juniors at schools districtwide next year. The district and college are working on plans to offer students who take the placement tests prerequisite college classes while still in high school.

Gerald Slemmer, principal at Red Mountain High, said a major reason students are taking so many remedial courses is that Mesa high school students are required to take only two years of math to graduate. District officials this spring plan to propose a policy requiring three years of math in high school. The school board would have to give its approval.

"I think it would be helpful to us," said Slemmer, previously an assistant superintendent for a Pennsylvania school district that required three years of math. "I mean, right now we're kind of out on an island trying to convince students that they need it, but we can't require them to take it. .
. . It's clearly an issue throughout the state of Arizona."

Gov. Janet Napolitano's P-20 Council on education reform has recommended three years of math as a graduation requirement instead of the current requirement of two years. By 2012, four years of math should be required to graduate, the council recommended.

The Mesa school district is also reforming the way it calculates grade-point averages to encourage students to take more rigorous classes, particularly in their senior year. The policy changes are designed to primarily affect students entering ninth-grade this fall and those younger.

To identify students who could handle more rigorous classes, the district has been paying for hundreds of sophomores at Mesa, Westwood and Skyline high schools to take the PSAT test, a precursor to the SAT. Next school year, district officials hope to expand the free PSAT testing for sophomores at all Mesa high schools.

On a recent state-by-state report card on educational effectiveness, Arizona received an F for its high school students' postsecondary and workforce readiness. The report card was issued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute.

"We've discovered that our students who do not go past algebra and geometry, many of those students wind up in a remedial math course when they go to college," Slemmer said.

By their sophomore year, many students have taken their required math courses and passed the AIMS test, the exit exam students must pass to graduate from Arizona high schools.

Slemmer said his school counselors push students to take more math while he preaches the value of avoiding remedial courses that require college tuition.

"It's kind of pay me now or pay me later," Slemmer said. "That's the speech I give them all the time."

What do you think?
Post a comment about this article