Kentucky Seeks to Improve College Readiness

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Kentucky’s governing body for higher education voted last week to put in place a statewide standard aimed at reducing the number of college freshmen who need remedial courses.

The policy, which will take effect next fall, guarantees all college freshmen placement in classes that they can count toward graduation, as long as they have the minimum skills required in mathematics and English.

“We keep saying that we are not getting students college-ready,’’ said Jim Applegate, the vice president of academic affairs for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, which came up with the plan to address that problem along with the state board of education, state universities, and ACT, the Iowa City, Iowa-based admissions-test provider.

The council does not have the authority to mandate change at the high school level, but a Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman said the agency supports the plan overall and would take its elements into consideration while revising the state’s high school curriculum.

“This is something we have been involved with, and we think it’s a good idea,’’ said Lisa Gross of the state education department. She said the high remedial rates show a clear disconnect between what is needed and what is provided in high schools now.

Mr. Applegate said that 50 percent of students entering community colleges in the state need remedial courses in math. Remedial math and English in Kentucky’s colleges do not provide credits.

While 75 percent of high schoolers say they want to go to college, Mr. Applegate said, far fewer take courses that help them succeed once they get there.

“We wanted as a state to go out and say to teachers, students, and parents that you need to make sure you get these scores and not be remediated,’’ he said, adding that students would be informed as early as middle school about what they will need to know to be successful in college.

Review of CATS

The plan puts Kentucky in a small group of states, including Massachusetts and Texas, that have moved to help students bridge the knowledge gap between high school and college.

The Kentucky plan defines specifically what students’ scores should be on the ACT or other college-admissions tests. For example, three levels of readiness are described for placement in a math course at state universities and colleges: Students with an ACT math subscore of 19 or higher, out of a possible 36, would qualify for placement in a credit-bearing math course; students with a subscore of 22 or higher would qualify for placement in college algebra; and students with a subscore of 27 or higher would qualify for placement in college calculus.

For English, a student earning an ACT subscore of 18 or higher would qualify for placement in any credit-bearing writing course. The postsecondary education council, however, does not guarantee admission to any institution.

Mr. Applegate said that Kentucky’s high school Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS, is under review, and that changes over the coming year may allow it to be included in the placement policy in the future.

Getting high schoolers ready for college and the workplace is also one of Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s priorities, a spokesman for the Kentucky governor said.

Although Mr. Fletcher, a Republican, has not taken a stand on the postsecondary council’s plan, he has outlined an education proposal designed to better prepare high school students for college, including year-end assessments and better alignment across all core content areas, said Stan Lampe, the spokesman.

Other states over the past few years have introduced assessment programs to better prepare students and gauge their readiness for college. The Kentucky plan was developed based on research conducted through the state’s participation in the American Diploma Project, a joint effort of three education reform groups—Achieve Inc., the Education Trust, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation—and the National Alliance of Business, a coalition of business organizations. All four groups are based in Washington.

Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve, noted that of the four other states that were involved in the diploma project, at least three—Indiana, Massachusetts, and Texas—have developed or are developing assessment plans.

Kati Haycock, the executive director of the Education Trust, cited college-readiness plans in Indiana and New York City. “The idea is to leave less to individual institutional variation, and give schools and students much clearer signals about what they need to know,’’ she said. “It doesn’t help if the definition of college-ready is different in different colleges.’’

Vol. 24, Issue 12, Page 18

Published in Print: November 17, 2004, as Kentucky Seeks to Improve College Readiness
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