College remediation rates shine a light on deep problems with Illinois’ education system

Two years ago, I published a commentary in my local newspaper entitled “Data Must Drive Education Decisions” that read in part as follows:

“I have a suggestion for those who believe standardized testing in our public schools is untenable, unreasonable, and unfair: look at the national and local data on the numbers of college freshmen who require remedial coursework when they enter college and see where students who graduate from your local district stack up.

Given that some passionately feel that testing in our public schools is rife with problems, perhaps a more persuasive case can be made for examining what happens to our area high school graduates (and the sub-groups of those graduates) after they receive their diplomas. Our area colleges and universities gather student data that matches their high schools with information on who requires remedial courses upon admission….

This would be very instructive information to make available on a school districts website because it will allow local residents to have a very clear snapshot of whether their high school is better or worse at preparing their students for college success, and it would allow us to really drill down into what our schools areand are notdoing well.”

I made this suggestion because I was tired of “champions” of public education who fuss endlessly about using standardized test scores to measure the performance of America’s public schools.  Apparently my suggestion that we should be concerned about how few of our nation’s high school graduates are college-ready based on measures as “flawed” as the ACT, SAT, or PARCC tests was simply failing to recognize what a truly wonderful job our public schools are doing.  Given the heat that standardized testing sometimes generates, it seemed to me that college remediation data would allow us to move beyond the argument and controversy so we could look at real-world student outcomes we could correlate with academic achievement at the high school level.

I also presumed this would never happen because it would shine a politically problematic light on the education provided in our state’s public schools.

So imagine my amazement when I discovered that this year’s Illinois Report Card, which provides a searchable database of every school in our state, has new charts attached to the Academic Progress tab when you type in the name of the public high school in your community: “Post-Secondary Remediation.”

I encourage every parent and concerned citizen to spend some time on the website and learn about the characteristics and academic outcomes of your public schools. Now that this information is available, pay particular attention to the percentage of your school district’s graduates who require remedial coursework when they enroll in their local community college, which is the starting point for about half of our nation’s high school graduates.  

Hopefully, you will be pleasedbut many will not.

What do you think?
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Andrew Wilk

Andrew Wilk

Andrew teaches both English and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, and during the 2014-15 academic year he was nominated for the Teaching Excellence Award at the college in recognition of his work in the classroom. In addition to teaching at both the secondary and college level, he worked for many years in the private sector, holding professional and administrative positions in advertising, journalism and healthcare. Andrew has published over 100 commentaries on topics ranging from politics to education, and he has also published a novel, “A Day at the Fair with Chili Boy.” He writes on his blog, Common Sense. He is the dad of two grown children, who attended public schools in Urbana.

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