This is a guest blog post by Shana Payne, Director, Delaware Higher Education Office, Delaware Department of Education.
In Delaware – as is the case across the country – students are graduating high school less than fully prepared for the level of rigor necessary in college courses. Of Delaware public high school graduates entering an in-state college or university this fall, 41 percent will begin their postsecondary education behind their peers, according to the state’s 2017 College Success Report released last month. These students discovered through college placement tests that they need to pass non-credit remedial classes before they can enter the college-level coursework needed for their degrees. The reality can be jarring: Acceptance to college does not guarantee readiness for college.
Students entering college should — at minimum — be prepared to take a college algebra course. A 2008 report from WestEd indicates a rigorous math course sequence — Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 — best prepares students for college-level courses. However, most Delaware students complete this sequence by the end of 11th grade and yet 36 percent still require remediation in math. These students must take remedial math courses in college that reteach concepts taught in middle and high school.
Delaware is seeing similar trends in English. While all high school students in Delaware must complete four years of English, students complete these four years with varying degrees of preparation for college courses. Twenty-four percent of the Class of 2015 required remediation in English upon entering college. Most of the students who required remediation were enrolled in 12th grade college prep or honors-level English classes. By comparison, only 4 percent of students taking college-level courses – including Advanced Placement (AP) and Dual Enrollment – required remediation, reinforcing the need for students to have access to courses that deliver full grade-level standards.
While increased access to rigorous coursework is needed, this year’s College Success Report raises questions about the reliability of grades as a measure of college readiness and the need to provide targeted supports to ensure student success. It asks educators to challenge traditional systems: Does a “B” in honors and a “B” in college prep reflect students’ readiness for advanced coursework in the same way? Are there other ways to identify which students should take more challenging classes?
One example is Delaware’s Milford School District, which saw a 45 percent increase in AP test takers during the 2015-16 school year. Milford chose to use the SAT – Delaware provides free SAT tests to all high school juniors– to identify and invite college-ready students to enroll in honors and AP courses. At the same time, Milford focused on providing additional supports to students to ensure they successfully transitioned to higher-level courses and could master the content as well. By providing after-school tutoring, summer check-in days, Sunday sessions and Schoology and Remind supports, Milford increased the number of students scoring a three (3+) or higher on AP exams by 38 percent, preparing more students to enter college ready for college-level coursework.
Data the College Success Report continues to help districts and charters change their systems, and the state is showing signs of early progress. Delaware experienced an overall reduction in remediation since 2012. Still, despite more students attending college, remediation rates in Delaware remain flat. A slow decrease in remediation is not enough. As educators, policymakers and families, it is our job to ensure all students are prepared to succeed when they leave high school – in college and beyond. The College Success Report continues to explore – and uncover – what is standing in the way of all students entering college ready for credit-bearing courses.