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Project Oklahoma: Is Oklahoma preparing students for life after high school?

Project Oklahoma is a in-depth investigation into Oklahoma's educational system (KOKH).

Are Oklahoma schools properly preparing their students for life after high school? One measure of how schools are preparing students for college or careers is the number of students who need help catching up once they get to college.

The state’s remediation rate has been tracked for more than 20 years, but the rate has shown little improvement and the unduplicated rate is around 40%; which means four out of every 10 Oklahoma high school graduates has to take one or more course before they are able to take core college courses.

Remediation courses in English, Science or Math at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities cost students money, but do not provide students any college credit. They are designed to address deficiencies in order to ensure success in the actual college courses.

“Even taking one remedial class can drop the chances of graduation by up to 10 percentage points,” said

Tony Hutchison the Vice Chancellor for Strategic Planning, Analysis and Workforce and Economic Development with the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education.

“We don't right now have enough data link between the State Department of Ed and Higher Ed for us to analyze what course taking patterns are taking place in those high schools, who's teaching the classes all those variables,” Hutchinson said.

Math is the most remediated course at Oklahoma colleges and universities. The State Department of Education announced last year an effort to tackle the high remediation rates using a new college and career ready math course. This is the first year schools have been able to teach the course and there are mixed results.

“It's definitely a work in progress,” said Michael Elizondo, a teacher at Santa Fe South Charter School. Elizondo teaches the new math course and says it has been a great success for his students.

“It's been really great to see lightbulbs go off in students as they are re-encountering some of this stuff in a different way and they've like ‘Oh I didn't know that's how that worked.’”

The course allows for more hands-on and real-world applications for principles on Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and Geometry. It is a fourth-year course that allows students to master what they may not have picked up the first time around or simply refresh what they already learned.

“You have to practice [math],” Elizondo said, “You have to keep it in the front of your mind or you are going to forget it.”

The state only requires high school students take three math courses in high school. Santa Fe South Charter School requires its students to take four math courses. College and Career Ready Math counts as a math credit at Santa Fe South to meet their four-course requirement.

In regular public schools, College and Career Ready Math does not count as a math credit.

“Originally, Putnam City High School there were 23 students enrolled [in College and Career Ready Math] now, it’s down to 13,” says Putnam City Schools spokesman Steve Lindley, “Some of those students dropped the class before it even began."

At one Putnam City High School, Lindley said the new math course was dissolved after winter break due to the decreased enrollment and the need for the teacher to teach an Algebra 2 course.

Putnam City counts the math course as an elective. If students want a fourth math course they can take a more-advanced course instead of the new program.

It has been recommended that students who succeed in the new math course by getting an “A” or “B” grade in every section of the course should be automatically allowed to skip the math remediation course regardless of ACT score or any placement test.

“There's no guarantee for any student taking the class in high school that if they do well in it, get an “A” or “B” in every unit that they won't have to take math remediation,” Lindley said. There are very few colleges or universities that have agreed to that condition.

Lindley says there was no expectation the new course would be a ‘light-switch’ moment for acceptance of the new course and Putnam City remains committed to doing whatever it can to lower remediation rates of its graduates.

Colleges are also trying to help cut remediation rates and lessen the burden on students. Hutchinson said many have begun offering simultaneous remediation courses. Those are college courses that allow the student to take the full-credit course, but put in some extra hours in a math lab at the same time to work on concepts they struggle with. It allows for both the remediation work and the college credit course to happen at the same time.

Hutchinson said there is also an effort to move past the 'one size fits all' approach of placement tests that would allow for a sliding scale that might take into account the rigor of a student’s high school courses to determine if they would be able to succeed if challenged by a college-level course.

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