State's college-prep classes may not be making grade Many students take remedial math, English in higher education

August 25, 1998|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

One in four Maryland high school graduates who take college preparatory classes still can't do freshman-level math when they enroll at state campuses, and one in eight can't read or write well enough, says a new report.

The report, released yesterday by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, documents what one top state official acknowledged was a troubling lack of readiness for college among a significant number of the state's high school graduates.

"We think it's getting better," said Patricia S. Florestano, state secretary of higher education, "but we obviously have a long way to go."

The report found that nearly 25 percent of the state's 15,541 high school graduates who enrolled in Maryland four-year or community colleges in fall 1996 had to take remedial math classes, despite having had college-prep courses.

Twelve percent of those same graduates needed remedial writing instruction, and 14 percent needed to take what some educators call "developmental" classes in reading comprehension.

Despite the higher education secretary's optimism that the situation is improving, the commission's reports for the last three years fail to show it. The percentage of college-prepped Maryland high school graduates needing help with math declined from 24 percent in 1994 to 19 percent in fall 1995, but jumped in 1996. The remedial reading and writing rates have been virtually the same all three years.

'Major problem'

"I think it really is a major problem," said Sidney Krome, an English professor at Coppin State College, who said he is scheduled to teach two remedial composition courses this fall. "Even the ones who pass the placement tests are coming in really not that well prepared in reading and writing."

The amount of remedial classwork occurring on Maryland campuses is similar to levels reported nationwide. A study released last month by the Fordham Foundation found that one in three students in public colleges took one or more remedial courses, with math the largest problem.

"It sounds horribly high, and it should sound alarming," Mike Petrilli, the foundation's program director, said of Maryland's remedial math rate. "But the numbers are about that bad nationally. Compared to where we should be, it certainly is outrageous."

Florestano cautioned that the report fails to include high school graduates who attend college out of state. It also may exaggerate by 2 percent or 3 percent the proportion of students taking remedial math classes, because of an error in figures supplied by Montgomery College, the state's largest two-year school.

About 14 percent of the freshmen entering the state's public four-year colleges and universities in fall 1996 had to take remedial math classes, despite having taken college-prep courses in high school.

But 40 percent of college-prepped high school grads who went to the state's community colleges also had to take what some educators call "developmental" math classes.

Remedial classes also are required of a greater proportion of new college students who did not take college-prep courses in high school, the report finds.

"We're not denying we have a problem," Florestano said. "We're trying to fix it."

The solution may be comprehensive reform of state education that coordinates instruction better from kindergarten through college, she said.

College administrators say the reasons so many high school graduates can't do college-level math vary. For some, it may be simply out of sight, out of mind.

"If they get their math requirement out of the way before their senior year, they may get a little rusty," said Randy Bengfort, spokesman for Howard Community College.

The percentage of freshmen at four-year colleges needing remedial math varied from 2 percent at Loyola and Villa Julie colleges to 73 percent at Coppin State. Among community colleges, it ranged from 1 percent at Wor-Wic to 73 percent at Baltimore City.

No remedial courses

But some schools -- St. Mary's College of Maryland, College of Notre Dame of Maryland, Goucher College, the Johns Hopkins University, Maryland Institute, College of Art, Washington College and Western Maryland College -- do not have remedial programs. Others, notably University of Maryland, College Park, Frostburg State University, Loyola and Mount St. Mary's College offer no remediation in English or reading.

The state's flagship university campus eliminated remedial classes in reading and English about a decade ago as it tightened its admissions standards. While about 5 percent of incoming freshmen from Maryland high schools need help with math, those who struggle with composition can seek help at a writing laboratory offered through the English department.

Heavier class loads

Florestano defended schools, like Coppin State and Baltimore City Community College, with high remedial instruction rates. "Some colleges have a mission to reach out and try to take a kid who may not be as well prepared," she said.

But, she noted, students who take remedial classes often must take extra-heavy class loads or extend schooling to earn their degree.

"The more remedial courses a student takes," she said, "the less apt they are to graduate."

Pub Date: 8/25/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.