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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Remedial rates: Spokane's big, dirty secret

By Laurie H. Rogers

What are the college remedial rates in mathematics? How many high school graduates have to take remedial classes in college BEFORE they can take college-level math classes? Our state education agency -- OSPI -- has previously estimated a 2% remedial rate at the University of Washington. Others have estimated anywhere from 30% to 90%, depending on which colleges they're talking about.

The problem with estimating remedial rates is that one must be specific about which students, which classes, which colleges, and which years. The numbers change, from year to year, they are higher for community colleges, and they are higher for public school students than for privately taught students.

As with any statistic, the numbers can be worked to say whatever we want them to say.

Public? Or private?: The remedial rates tend - almost without fail - to be higher for public school students than for privately educated or homeschooled students.

Mathematics? Or reading and writing?: Public schools teach reading and writing slightly better than they teach math. (This is not a "success," however. Schools still fail to teach sufficient grammar, spelling, and writing skills. Just ask any college English teacher, or any business owner who is looking for graduates who can write.)

Recent graduates (just got out of high school)? Or all graduates?: Remedial rates tend to be higher for people who have been out of high school for a few years. This seems obvious, however students don't have to be out for long to forget the little they were taught. That's because many weren't taught very well to begin with. (This is not - despite what you might have heard from district administrators - necessarily the teachers' fault. This has more to do with curriculum, methodology, and district policies.)

Community colleges? Or four -year colleges?: Remedial rates are much higher at community colleges than at four-year colleges. This is partly because many students begin their schooling at four-year colleges by picking up remedial classes at the community colleges.

College programs that cater to the technical fields? Or those that cater to the liberal arts: The remedial rates in mathematics tend to be higher at colleges that cater to the trades and technical fields.

Everyone? Or just students from specific high schools?: The numbers below are from six Spokane high schools, not from everyone who attended SCC and SFCC.

Everyone who tested? Or everyone who tested and enrolled in a remedial class?: The numbers below are for SPS graduates who tested at SCC and SFCC and then enrolled in a remedial math class.

Spokane's numbers are bad.
  • It's true that the numbers below are just for SCC and SFCC. They don't include graduates who went to the four-year colleges or other colleges out of state.
  • However, they also don't include students who dropped out in middle school or high school. Spokane currently has a 28.7% dropout rate, along with a serious dropout problem in middle school.
  • Nor do the numbers below include students who tested into remedial math at SCC and SFCC but then declined to enroll.
  • Nor do the numbers below include students who didn't drop out, who didn't have the math skills for college, but who decided to just not go to college.
Therefore, for students who graduated from a Spokane high school in 2008 and then enrolled at SCC or SFCC in 2008/2009 -- the number of students requiring remediation in mathematics (Source: Data extracted from May 27, 2010, tables provided by CCS Institutional Research):
Lewis & Clark High School:
SCC: 94.2%
SFCC: 71.8%

Joel E. Ferris High School:
SCC: 100%
SFCC: 69%

North Central High School:
SCC: 100%
SFCC: 91.8%

Shadle Park High School:
SCC: 100%
SFCC: 91.8%

John R. Rogers High School:
SCC: 95.8%
SFCC: 90.9%

SCC: 100%
SFCC: 87.5%
  • All told, the overall remedial rate in mathematics from six Spokane high schools at SCC and SFCC is 87%.
  • Most of these students tested into Elementary Algebra or below.
  • Of the ones who took remedial math classes at SCC and SFCC in 2008/2009, almost 47% of them failed their remedial classes or withdrew early.
These numbers are damning of K-12 mathematics in Spokane Public Schools.
Spokane Public Schools could determine actual remedial rates by providing students with exit exams as they leave high school (based on college placement content). Of course, the administrators would have to want to know the remedial rates. They would have to want to engage in transparency, and to learn from their mistakes.

The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) has not been good a indicator of college readiness because it was a 10th-grade test, it was based on low-level content, and to pass in 2009, students needed just 56.9%. (And yet, in Spokane in 2009, 57.7% of our 10th-grade students could not pass this low-level math test.)

In 2010, just 43% of Washington State students passed the new test, the HSPE. OSPI did tell everyone this -- 19 paragraphs down in its June 16, 2010, press release.

I have been told that students can deal with the weak math curricula in Spokane Public Schools by enrolling in Advanced Placement classes ... But the AP classes are being opened to everyone, including students who lack skills in arithmetic. Since Spokane Public Schools does not value arithmetic, going so far as to have actively and deliberately prevented teachers from teaching arithmetic -- this could be nearly every student.

This situation is unconscionable, destructive, and deceitful. The school board must get its act together and hold its superintendent and curriculum department accountable. Some firings are warranted -- one firing in particular.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (June 2010). "Remedial rates: Spokane's big, dirty secret." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: