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