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Your high school GPA counts. It’s how you’ll be placed in NC community college classes.

Students walk between classes at Wake Tech Community College in this January 2015 file photo.
Students walk between classes at Wake Tech Community College in this January 2015 file photo. cseward@newsobserver.com

Wake Tech is joining a new statewide effort by North Carolina’s community colleges to make it easier for students to complete the courses they need to get degrees or certificates.

The state’s 58 community colleges are phasing in a program that places new students into required English and math courses based on their high school grade-point-average instead of requiring them to take a placement test. The change is supposed to reduce how many students are placed in remedial courses that slow down their ability to complete the classes they need.

All 58 community colleges will use the Reinforced Instruction for Student Excellence (RISE) program by fall 2020. Wake Technical Community College announced Monday it would begin using the new placement system for the fall 2019 semester.

“If a student can get into the gateway English and math course more quickly, they’re more likely to complete their credentials,” said Wake Tech dean Laura Kalbaugh. “If we can get them into those gateway courses with the support they need, we expect more will move on and have success.”

Kalbaugh said the old system that relied on the placement test meant many students were placed in remedial courses that never allowed them to catch up before they became discouraged and quit attending.

Under RISE, new Wake Tech students who graduated within the past 10 years who have an unweighted high school GPA of at least 2.8 will be able to automatically enroll in college-level math and English classes. This also applies to students who have an associate’s degree or higher.

Students for Education Reform speakers urge Charlotte schools to set higher expectations, including a minimum GPA for graduation.

For students with a GPA of 2.2 to 2.799, they’ll be placed in college-level English and math classes if they have a high enough SAT or ACT score. If their SAT or ACT score isn’t high enough, they’ll still be placed in those college-level courses while at the same time taking what are called “co-requisite courses.”

Kalbaugh said these new “co-requisite courses” will give the students the support they need in the main courses,

Students with a GPA of lower than 2.2 can be placed in college-level courses and the co-requisite courses if they have high enough ACT or SAT scores. If not, they’ll be placed in remedial courses now called transition classes.

Wake Tech says students who have been out of high school for more than 10 years will still take the standardized placement test — as will students who do not have a GPA, such as international students, those with GEDs and some homeschooled students.

Kalbaugh said this approach has been successfully used in other states, including Tennessee, California and Indiana.

The change should especially be important for high school students in the Wake County Public School System, which sends 25 percent of its graduates to Wake Tech.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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