NHPS tackles poor college readiness

A state law aimed at increasing college graduation rates will put over 500 New Haven high school seniors in remedial classes this spring.

The 2012 law, which prohibits colleges and universities from offering non-credit remedial courses, requires high schools to offer remedial help in high school for students who score under 400 in math or 410 in reading on the SATs. As part of a way to supplement the new law, any student who passes the new remedial course in New Haven will be automatically admitted to Gateway Community College.

Only 23 percent of New Haven high school graduates finish college within six years, according to a 2012 report published by National Student Clearinghouse. By eliminating remediation classes, the legislature hopes to heighten graduation rates by giving students remedial help in college, as opposed to in college where they must pay for classes, said the director of student affairs at Gateway Community College, Matthew Long. “Far too many kids are graduating from high school without requisite skills for college,” said Dr. Dolores Garcia-Blocker, director of college and career pathways for New Haven Public Schools. “Which means too many high school teachers don’t know what college readiness looks like. This is an intervention plan.”

In 2011, 89 percent of New Haven high school graduates needed remedial help in English or math freshman year, according to the state’s P-20 Council, which is part of the Board of Regents for higher education in Connecticut. Nationally, that number is around 40 percent.

At the end of December, principals from all nine of New Haven’s public high schools submitted plans for complying with the law, choosing from a variety of options based on their resources and the number of students who needed remedial help, Garcia-Blocker said. Seven schools are making the remedial course a class students can take during the school day.

Judy Puglisi, principal of Metropolitan Business Academy, decided to integrate the remedial curriculum into all senior-level English classes and two math classes. She said faculty responses to the changes have been positive, particularly since the curriculum has a greater emphasis on college-level writing.

“Next year, the curriculum will hopefully be integrated into every single English class,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of collaboration over a long period, but I’m excited that it aligns with our whole literacy initiative.”

Metropolitan Business Academy had already been looking into offering college credit-bearing courses senior year before the law passed, and Puglisi said teachers from the school will work with writing professors from the University of Connecticut this summer to discuss training students to write at the college level.

Gateway Community College spokeswoman Evelyn Gard, who described faculty response to the change as a “mixed bag,” said she hopes the law will prompt a more efficient success rate by lessening the time it students take to graduate. The average age of a student at Gateway is 27, but Gard said there have been an increasing number of younger students coming straight from high school as the economy improves.

“We’ve been involved for so long in helping people become college ready, and this has changed the way we do business,” Gard said. “But the opportunity to take college level remediation in high school can give students a leg-up, and we’re in favor of whatever is going to help the population we serve.”

In 2011, 85.6 percent of entering public high school graduates were recommended for remedial classes at Gateway. Last year, only 6 percent of new students at Gateway were found fit for college-level courses.

Gateway started a 3-week free intensive boot camp program last summer to replace the canceled remedial courses, Long said. The program, which comprises a 45-hour refresher course on math and writing skills, will be expanded to winter and spring semesters in the future. Students who need extra help can also still take one semester of developmental courses under the law. Long said all students who have completed the boot camp improved their skills by one course level.

Both Puglisi and Garcia-Blocker said they are looking to expand collaboration between K-12 schools and universities, hoping to work closely with Southern Connecticut State University and University of Connecticut in addition to Gateway.

Both also expressed concerns that a remedial class during the spring semester of senior year might be coming too late.

“This is step one. We’re going to continue to work with Gateway to see how we can plan backwards, making sure there’s focus on ninth, tenth, and eleventh [grades],” Puglisi said. “Obviously you can’t get a child ready for college in one year.”

Gateway Community College is the most popular post-graduation college for New Haven Public School students.

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