As Indiana has ratcheted up its expectations for young people, it also has invested heavily in remediation to help students pass its high school exit tests.
Providing extra help to students who are at risk of failing such exams so that they have an adequate chance to learn the materials is crucial, most agree. Yet as states have begun holding students to higher standards, there is concern that some have not moved as quickly to help struggling students meet the new requirements.
“To impose some of these high-stakes tests is not necessarily a wrong direction,” said Mary Fulton, a policy analysis at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. “But we need to give students every opportunity to demonstrate what they know and to learn the material or have a second chance.”
A study released earlier this month by the Indiana department of education, and conducted by the Monterey, Calif.-based testing company CTB- McGraw Hill, which is the primary contractor for the test, found that Indiana schools have made “substantial efforts” to help students who initially failed the Graduation Qualifying Exam, which was first given in 1997.
As a whole, the study found, the roughly 64,600 students who are seniors in Indiana this year have made notable gains. After their first attempt in 1997, 54 percent passed both the English and mathematics sections of the test. Now, 86 percent have met the requirement.
Moreover, students who participated in school- sponsored remedial efforts had, on average, made larger gains than those who did not participate, the study found.
“What I’ve been hearing from superintendents is that the process is working,” said Suellen K. Reed, the state superintendent. “More students are able to meet standards than would have without the test, and schools are using the test results to find out what students need help in, and then giving them help in those areas.”
Indiana has two programs to help students who fail the exams. A grant program provides districts with money for remedial education for students who have not met state standards in grades 3, 6, 8, and 10. That program has averaged between $20 million and $22 million a year, said Mary Tiede Wilhelmus, a spokeswoman for the state education department.
The legislature also has appropriated an extra $5 million to help members of the classes of 2000 and 2001, the first groups of seniors who must pass the tests to receive a diploma.
John N. Kline, the director of planning, assessment, and learning technologies for the Fort Wayne schools, said that in every district high school, students who have failed the exam take a special class that combines English, math, and study skills.
In addition, the schools offer extra activities, such as tutoring and evening courses, in the month preceding the tests.
To help students prepare for the exams, the district has created its own quarterly assessments for students in grades 2-9.
Of the district’s 1,700 seniors, about 70 still haven’t passed the test and have not met the state’s other two options for earning a diploma, Mr. Kline said.
Statewide, Indiana officials will not have final figures on how many of this year’s seniors actually receive a diploma until the fall.
The study found that nearly half (42 percent) of the remediation programs offered by Indiana districts were part of regularly scheduled coursework, rather than additions to the students’ schedule. It also found that schools were employing a variety of instructional strategies to assist students.
But it noted that there is a lack of knowledge about the best ways to remediate students. “It is probably the case that optimal remediation procedures have yet to be well-defined or agreed upon,” the researchers wrote.
In particular, both teachers and students expressed concerns about whether all students were getting enough one-on-one attention. In some reported programs, there was little teacher involvement, with students working with automated computer programs as their means of receiving extra help.
“I think there’s a question: Do states know enough or do enough in remediation to really reach the kinds of problems that are out there?” said Monty Neill, the executive director of FairTest, an advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass. “A lot of remediation is doing the same stuff again. It doesn’t help.”
“Remediation has to be of high quality,” agreed Ms. Fulton of the ECS. “Maybe one of the benefits of tougher accountability policies,” she added, “is that we’ll pay a lot closer attention to what kids know and don’t know and how we can get them up to speed in a much more rigorous way.”
Dan Clark, the deputy executive director of the Indiana State Teachers Association, notes that while Indiana’s statewide testing program, known as ISTEP, was put in place in 1988, funding for remediation was capped until 1996 at levels that allowed only about 8 percent of Indiana’s students to be served.
Although that cap has since been lifted, Mr. Clark noted, “the issue for this graduating class is, can you make up in four years what you neglected in eight years? And the answer is surely no, not enough.”
In New York state, students must pass the rigorous “Regents” exam in English this year to receive a diploma. And while the state has mandated that districts provide extra help to students who have not passed the test, it has not required a specific approach.
Although New York has not set aside money specifically for this purpose, said Alan Ray, a spokesman for the state department of education, “this will be the fourth year of record increases in state aid to schools, and legislative leaders have said that they are providing the increases so that students will be able to reach higher standards.”
For this coming school year, for example, lawmakers appropriated an additional $1.2 billion, almost double the increase they approved four years ago. “Schools are providing extra help to students who, in many cases, would have simply coasted through before,” Mr. Ray added.
A Delay in Maryland
In Maryland, the state school board voted last week to push back the implementation of a requirement that students pass new end-of-course exams to receive a high school diploma from the class of 2005 to the class of 2007.
State officials made the decision after Gov. Parris N. Glendening approved funding for only about a quarter of an ambitious $49 million plan to provide extra help to students who need it.
The “K-12 Intervention” plan would require tutoring or summer school for students who are falling behind in reading or math as early as elementary school.
The state board decided to begin field-testing the new exams on schedule, starting this fall, and to report results on student transcripts beginning in 2001.
By 2003, said Ron Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent of education, much of the intervention plan should be funded and the board will examine whether it is working before making a final decision about tying test results to the diploma. “Right now,” he added, “I think the default is to move ahead.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 31, 2000 edition of Education Week as Indiana Out in Front On Giving Students Extra Help