By HARRY AURORA //
Education is the cornerstone of success, a college degree is paramount and K-12 schools are committed to doing everything possible to help students excel at the college level.
It appears to be working: National high school graduation rates are among the highest they’ve ever been.
But accommodating for the wide range of variables that exist for every individual student is never easy, and requires significant resources that may not be available to schools serving lower socioeconomic communities. This creates imbalances that school districts must address, if they are to close the achievement gap.
Studies have shown that students who take Advanced Placement courses are more likely to graduate from college in four years, regardless of prior academic achievement or socioeconomic status.
Additionally, scoring a 3 or higher on an AP exam – which usually earns the student college credit – is a good indicator of future college success. According to reports by the U.S. Department of Education, most colleges and universities give extra weight to AP classes on a student’s transcript, understanding that AP classes expose high schoolers to rigorous, college-level curricula.
Wisely, school districts across the country encourage students who perform well academically to take as many AP classes as possible. But schools in rural and other lower socioeconomic communities may not have access to teachers qualified to teach an AP course – so, many are turning to new-age educational technologies to supplement their services.
The trend toward higher-level high school education, and the universal desire to maintain high graduation rates, has also highlighted the need for new strategies to support students who need remedial assistance.
Defined as classes that help students achieve basic concepts to prepare them for grade-level work, remedial courses are often a barrier to learning, particularly in college, as students take additional time to complete the required coursework – increasing tuition, delaying graduation, even leading to higher dropout rates.
Statistics paint a bleak picture for remedial learning at the college level. Remedial classes don’t count toward college credit, but 60 percent of first-time students at community colleges need them – and 74 percent of full-time undergraduate students required to take remedial courses ultimately drop out.
For those who continue to pursue higher education, only 19 percent graduate on time, and 35 percent take as many as six years to finish.
This can come at a steep price. Two additional years at a public college can cost an additional $30,000 on average, and two extra years at a private school can run $50,000 or more.
Fortunately, there are multiple ways to avoid the need for remediation – distance learning, for instance, which makes certified, experienced teachers accessible to students in virtually any school district.
The key is to identify struggling students early on and offer them the proper assistance. There are several creative ways to reduce the need for remediation.
One is to require more math. Of the students who need college remediation, many require additional assistance in math, and this need can be reduced by high schools that go beyond the basics. Research by the Oklahoma State Department of Education found that students who take four years of math as opposed to the required three-year minimum scored an average of four points higher on the ACT. Classes that focus on statistics and probability, STEM and college math readiness can help fill in the gaps.
Another is to expose students to the “college experience.” A report by the Blackboard Institute cites exposure to accelerated learning as the most important and effective way to close the gap and ease the transition between high school and college – including AP courses and dual-enrollment in college courses while still in high school.
Districts must also work to identify high-risk students earlier. Student assessments can help identify skill levels and problem areas and determine which students may need additional help on college placement tests. Many schools perform such evaluations during a student’s sophomore or junior year and then take appropriate steps to remediate a potential issue, via tutoring or other individualized attention.
Which highlights the need for more one-on-one instruction. Research shows that tutoring and individualized instruction can reduce or eliminate the amount of time students spend on remediation, and that receiving personal instruction in one subject can also improve performance in others. Tutoring can also help students prepare for college assessments, better managing expectations and anxiety.
Districts can also work to educate parents and students on how remediation requirements are determined. Many students and parents are unaware that college-placement exams such as the SAT and ACT can also determine a student’s placement in remedial courses. Students should talk with their guidance counselors before graduation to determine if they’re a candidate for remediation – and if so, they should be made aware that they can retake their college entrance exams.
Educators and parents, meanwhile, should advocate for college assessments outside of the traditional standardized tests. Grade-point-averages and teacher evaluations tell a much more comprehensive story about an individual student.
In addition to high-tech distance-learning opportunities, tutoring, smart innovations and better preparation can yield better academic results – and eliminate the future need for remediation.
Harry Aurora is the founder and CEO of Jericho-based digital-education innovator iTutor.