BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – A recent report by the Arkansas Higher Education Department indicates that incoming students are better prepared for college level courses than they were in the past several years.
According to records compiled by the state-supported colleges and universities, 43.2 percent of students had to take remedial classes last year. That is the best that Arkansas students have done since 2009.
Students must take remedial courses if their scores are lower than 19 on the ACT national standardized tests. The ACT is divided into math, reading and English categories. The remedial classes prepare students for college level academics.
Students improved in all three categories in 2013, with the most improvement being in math. The number of students who had to take remedial math fell to 31.1 percent, from 38.4 percent in 2013. In reading, the rate fell to 22.1 percent in 2013, compared to 24.9 percent in 2012. In English, the number dropped from 29 percent to 26.8 percent.
More than 22,000 students took the ACT tests in 2013. Their improved scores can partly be attributed to tougher education standards that Arkansas has set for K-12 schools, which have resulted in more students taking a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.
For example, one of the requirements to qualify for a lottery scholarship is that the student must complete the Smart Core curriculum in high school.
Act 970 of 2009 requires educators to keep track of students who needed remedial classes after graduating from high school with a grade point average higher than 3.0. One purpose of this requirement is to allow educators to measure grade inflation.
Last year, 21.4 percent of the students required to take remedial courses had graduated high school with a 3.0 GPA or better.
Act 970 also requires colleges to keep up with the number of attempts needed for students to pass remedial classes. Last year, 87 percent passed their remedial classes on the first try, and 13 percent had to take the remedial class twice or more.
Students who took the ACT tests during high school or soon afterwards, when they were 18 or 19 years old, scored substantially better than older students. The remedial rate for students aged 18 or 19 was 37.6 percent, but it was 77.4 percent for students taking the test between the ages of 20 and 24.
Full-time students needed remedial classes at a much lower rate (39.9 percent) than part-time students (76 percent).
Remediation rates are an accurate measure of how well schools prepare students for college. The report lists remedial rates broken down by local school districts, to enable comparisons of which districts best prepare students.
Remediation rates are also a gauge of potential success in college. Students who must take remedial classes are not as likely to earn a degree.
Policy makers in Arkansas are actively working to increase the number of residents with a college degree, in large part for economic reasons. College graduates get better jobs and earn more, and industries are more likely to locate in areas with a well-educated work force.
Besides the economic benefits, higher education improves the overall quality of life in a community in other intangible ways, such as teaching people how to think critically and analytically.