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Ryan Lyle and Shawnee Stover take a placement test at Calhoun Community College.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Ryan Lyle and Shawnee Stover take a placement test at Calhoun Community College.

Catching up in college
High schools prepare students, but some still need remedial courses

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com · 340-2432

Brandt Latimer took grammar at Athens High School, but he had to take a remedial grammar class at Calhoun Community College.

His scores on the American College Test and Calhoun’s placement test required him to take English 098, a class he won’t get credit for toward his degree.

Latimer isn’t alone among 2006 graduates.

According to Alabama Commission on Higher Education, 28 percent of the state’s 2006 high school graduates enrolling in colleges took remedial courses in math or English. The percentage of students from high schools in The Daily’s coverage area equals the state percentage.

Calhoun had 1,605 students, about 19 percent of total enrollment, take remedial classes during the 2006 fall semester. These students paid $457,425.

Why do so many students need remedial courses?

Elliott Tyler, chairman of Calhoun’s Math Division, said he believes area high schools, particularly those in Decatur, Athens and Hartselle, offer the classes students need.

The rise of dual enrollment — classes high school students take through Calhoun for high school and college credit, — is filling the gaps at schools unable to offer advanced placement classes.

Tyler said his two sons went to Austin High School. One is a doctor; the other has a math degree. He has had “excellent students” who attended area high schools.

“I don’t think it’s the schools’ fault,” Tyler said. “I know my sons got a pretty good background, and I know the material is presented. But other students sometimes just don’t connect with math.”

Following the state

Brewer High School Principal Frances Couey said her school follows the state curriculum.

“There may be a gap in what the state requires and college expectations,” Couey said. “Colleges may be expecting too much from some students coming out of high school.”

Another issue could be accountability testing. Couey said testing forces teachers to “teach the test.” Testing takes a minimum of three weeks in the spring, plus high schools give the graduation exam three times a year.

One positive in the testing, however, is the Alabama Writing Assessment. Harry Moore, chairman of Calhoun’s Humanities Division, said he sees fewer students needing writing remediation. Schools emphasize writing to score well on the accountability testing taken in fifth, seventh and 10th grades. The ACT added a writing section to its college entrance exam.

Moore is in his 34th year in education. He said students seem less interested in reading and often have difficulty reading aloud.

He blamed today’s culture of television, Internet and radio, saying students are learning the language through their ears. Students often have difficulty with homonyms.

“They hear the words but they haven’t seen the words on the page,” Moore said.

Retention could be a problem. Latimer said he took grammar in 10th grade.

“Athens has great teachers, but it had been so long since I took grammar,” Latimer said.

Separating English

Couey wishes high schools could have separate English classes in literature and grammar in the same way history separates the different periods of time and countries. This would, however, require additional teachers and that costs money.

Leslie Johnson, Calhoun’s developmental math lab coordinator, said more recent graduates have poor study skills.

She said she often hears students say they’ve taken classes in high school but they have forgotten the material.

“Math is one thing that if you don’t use it, you forget it so quickly,” Johnson said.

Jeanne Payne, Decatur City Schools’ director of curriculum, said secondary school systems must do a better job of connecting everything students learn from elementary school through graduation. She said programs like the Mobile Math Initiative and Alabama Reading Initiative build fundamental concepts that help understanding and retention later in high school.

“Certainly, the goal is to make sure students are ready for the workplace, vocational school or college. I believe that only happens with continuity.”

Remedial stats

  • One remedial class at Calhoun Community College costs about $285 ($95 a semester hour), plus fees.

  • 1,605 students took remedial classes during the 2006 fall semester at a cost of $457,425 in tuition (not including fees).

  • Nationwide, a Houston Baptist University study reports that remedial classes cost states at least $541 million a year.

  • Remedial courses do not count
    toward graduation.

    Bayne Hughes

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