Remedial classes for some NC high school students to go statewide in 2018

High school seniors are enrolling in remedial classes with the aim of having fewer of them graduate with gaps in knowledge they’d have to fill when they enroll in a community college or university.

Eighteen schools are in the first phase of a program that will go statewide in 2018. The courses will eventually be mandatory for high school seniors who didn’t meet specific criteria in their junior year.

Legislators for years were critical of the high percentage of high school graduates who were not prepared for community college course work. A 2015 law required the state Department of Public Instruction, the community college system and local districts to come up with remedial English and math courses for high school students so they won’t need them after they graduate.

Until recently, about 66 percent of high school graduates who went on to community college were required to take one or more developmental classes there. That percentage has dropped to about 30 to 40 percent because community colleges changed the way they identify students who needed the courses, said Wesley Beddard, the associate vice president for programs at the N.C. Community College System.

The State Board of Education reviewed a report on the program’s progress Wednesday.

Board Vice Chairman A.L. Collins said the program could help public schools figure out how to structure the high school senior year to make sure students are ready to advance.

“What can we do to redesign 12th grade that helps community college?” Collins asked. “I think you’re going in the right direction.”

For now, 18 high schools, working with local community colleges, are trying out different kinds of courses and different criteria for student enrollment. In some schools, students are taking stand-alone courses, while other schools are embedding remediation work in existing classes. As the schools collect information on how much students have learned, schools will be able to select the approaches that are best geared to specific student needs, said Tiffany Perkins, director of K-12 standards, curriculum and instruction at the state Department of Public Instruction.

“This is really the exploratory phase, to get some of these partnerships going, get some data to see the impact, and make some adjustments if necessary,” she said. Students who successfully complete the courses should be ready for community college or a UNC system school.

Some of the districts now offering the classes were talking with community colleges about adding such coursework before the law passed. The legislation “gave them the vehicle to help them do it,” Beddard said.

As the program moves into its second phase and adds more high schools, the criteria for selecting students will be refined. The schools have different ways of deciding who should take the classes, using ACT scores, math grades, grade-point average or school staff recommendations, or a combination of these. Once the criteria are set, the courses will be mandatory for high school seniors who don’t meet the mark in their junior year.

Working on the project has given the community colleges and the school districts the chance to match what’s being taught in high schools with what colleges expect students to know, Beddard said.

At the same time, the goal is to target instruction to individual students’ weaknesses.

“We don’t want students to have to experience something they have already mastered,” Perkins said.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner