Controversy continues to rage over the requirement that Rhode Island high school students score highly enough on the New England Common Assessment Program test to receive a diploma.
The latest testing data show that 40 percent of students failed to meet the minimum math standard and risk being unable to graduate if their skills don't improve.
During the March 22 edition of Rhode Island Public Television's "A Lively Experiment," state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist defended the requirement.
Gist said that if you let students graduate without proficiency you're shortchanging them.
"Anyone who's telling these students that . . . it doesn't matter that they're able to do math at a basic level when they leave high school is just wrong. And it's not fair to them because what's going to happen to them when they leave our high schools and they go to the community college where 70-75 percent of them have to pay to take remedial courses to get the exact same math that we're talking about?"
Seventy to seventy-five percent of Rhode Island high school graduates who go to community college have to take remedial courses in math? That struck us as a huge percentage, even for those graduates who wanted a higher education but might not have had the grades, test scores or money to get into a four-year school. So we decided to check the numbers.
First stop: Gist's office, where spokesman Elliot Krieger told us that the data came from the Rhode Island Office of Higher Education.
When we contacted that office, spokesman Michael Trainor sent us to the Community College of Rhode Island, where William LeBlanc, the school's director of institutional research and planning, gave us the data for students enrolled last fall who had graduated from high school -- 97 percent of them from Rhode Island -- within the previous year.
CCRI uses a placement test called Accuplacer, developed by the same group responsible for the Scholastic Assessment Test for college-bound high school students, to identify students who need remedial work.
Among those 2,250 recent high school graduates, just over 75 percent needed some type of remedial course, whether it was math, English or writing, LeBlanc said. "That's the highest we've had in awhile." The rate usually ranges from 70-75 percent. He said that's not unusual for a community college.
The biggest need was usually for remedial math -- 65.7 didn't pass the math requirement. They had to take Fundamentals of Math -- which deals with basic arithmetic, percentages and working with fractions -- or high school algebra.
In addition, 47 percent had to take remedial reading and 36 percent of the recent high school graduates were required to take remedial writing, LeBlanc said.
Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said, "When [students] leave our high schools and they go to the community college . . . 70-75 percent of them have to pay to take remedial [math] courses."
The actual rate this past fall at CCRI was 65.7 percent. It's not in the range cited by Gist, but it's close enough to earn her a Mostly True.
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