According to a report released by the Ohio Board of Regents, 41% of Ohio’s high school graduates who enroll in one of Ohio’s public colleges need remedial coursework.  These students are not “college-ready” according to the report.  They are not “college-ready” according to Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro.  They are not “college-ready” according to Ohio Schools Superintendent Stan Heffner.  They are not “college-ready” because that is precisely what the colleges are telling us.  According to the report, the remedial course placement policies vary across colleges in Ohio, resulting in inconsistent results in the data.  And as we unpack the numbers, it’s hard to not look at this information as simply more rhetoric to continue heaping blame on the K-12 public schools in Ohio.  The colleges are trying to pass on the blame for their own unpreparedness down to the high schools under the guise of not providing “college-ready” students, while the numbers lead us to believe that it may actually be that Ohio’s colleges are not “student-ready.”

StateImpact Ohio, a collaboration of public media outlets, identified this issue as one of their Six Ohio Education Stories to Watch in 2012:

2. College-readiness. Early this year, expect to see Columbus focus on increasing the number of high school graduates who are actually ready to take English and math courses at a four-year university or their local community college — And efforts to align what students study with the kind of graduates colleges want. Wondering what that translates to in the real world? So are we.

On Christmas Day, the Dispatch released a fluff piece that included no critical questions about the report.  The article included the following details:

About 41 percent of students who graduate from a public high school in Ohio take at least one remedial course when they enroll in one of the state’s two- or four-year public colleges, according to the Ohio Board of Regents.

Remedial classes cost as much as other college courses but don’t count toward a degree. They also increase the time it takes to obtain a degree and the likelihood that a student will drop out.

Last year, Ohio spent an estimated $147 million on remedial education — money that could be better spent on other academic programs, said Jim Petro, the state’s higher-education chief. Petro is urging the four-year state universities to phase out their remedial programs over the next six years.

All of our college-bound students should be college-ready, and we shouldn’t have to take a step back to get them prepared,” Petro said.

After the phase-out, college students will be able to take remedial classes at branch campuses of the four-year schools and at the state’s community colleges, many of which are also working with high schools to get more teens prepared for college.

The best quote has to be Petro’s “we shouldn’t have to take a step back” line – we’ll revisit that one later. In addition to that, though, note that the Chancellor is prompting universities to phase out all remedial coursework.

To help reinforce Petro’s push that the fault lies with public school districts is State Superintendent Stan Heffner.  In his December 5 newsletter, Heffner put the onus for correcting this situation on high schools:

Regents update College Readiness Expectations
The Ohio Board of Regents (OBR) released its draft of College Readiness Expectations to ensure that students move from high school to college without needing to take remedial classes. Currently, 41 percent of high school graduates who attend a public college or university in our state need to take remedial courses, which cost time and money for both the students and the institutions of higher learning.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is working collaboratively with OBR to ensure a strong alignment between high school requirements and college readiness expectations.

In case that wasn’t forceful enough, Heffner opened his newsletter the following week with an even stronger message of K-12 responsibility as is evident in the constant reminder that the problem is with the high school graduates, not the colleges that enroll them.

As many of you know, I have spent the last several weeks traveling throughout the state to discuss the need to implement a college- and career-readiness agenda by the 2014-2015 school year. This includes implementing the new academic content standards now; participating in the new online assessment system that is being developed…; expanding the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment…; and redesigning the accountability system to reflect higher student performance expectations and to provide incentives and rewards to schools and districts for academic excellence.

The report contains remediation rates for students from each Ohio high school in 2009 who enrolled as first-time freshmen in an Ohio university or college that fall. The projected cost of remediation that year was $130 million, and it’s projected to be $147 million for 2010.

To address this issue I will be stressing ODE’s collaboration with the Board of Regents and school districts to ensure a strong alignment between high school course requirements and college readiness expectations….we have posted the Board of Regents’ report, “College Readiness Expectations for English and Mathematics,” which aligns its statements of what first year college students need to know and be able to do to be placed in non-remediation level courses to the Common Core standards.

Heffner’s newsletter then included the links to the Board of Regents expectations so that schools can adjust their curriculum accordingly and colleges can avoid providing these transitional classes.

But this isn’t a new problem.  According to a release from the Board of Regents in March 2007:

Ohio higher education has been concerned about the successful transition of students from high school to college courses, particularly in mathematics and English, for nearly three decades.

For “nearly three decades” Ohio’s colleges have been seeing the same problem.  It’s implied that they will not be the ones making the change – high schools need to make the appropriate adjustments.

So where’s the disconnect?  Should Ohio’s high schools be making these adjustments?  Are high schools the cause for the high number of remedial courses?  The truth might be out there, but neither Petro nor the Board of Regents appears to have it.

Let’s consider the source data for the report.  The information about remedial coursework is reported by the college and is not based on an objective measure, but is instead unique to each institution.  The Board of Regents report plainly states:

Developmental course enrollment, while not exact, is a useful indicator of the college preparation levels of freshmen…It should also be noted that developmental course placement policies vary across colleges, so the mix of students attending each institution will have some impact on the reported developmental course enrollment rates.

In short, not only does the individual college decide what the appropriate entry-level requirements are, but each college has a different requirement.  Therefore, if Ohio State has a stricter requirement than Shawnee State, the numbers will be artificially inflated since OSU enrolls more students overall.

But what about the these arbitrary levels and the revised college-readiness expectations set by the Board of Regents?  Strangely enough, the average ACT scores for Ohio’s graduates exceed both the national average and the ACT’s College Readiness Benchmark.  On top of that, Ohio students in Advanced Placement (AP) courses experience much greater success on the standardized AP exams (2009 passage rate of 65.9% vs. 58.5%) than the national average, the 10th highest percentage in the country.

If this is a focus of the state right now, then it’s only logical that Ohio must be sliding down in the rankings, right?  Not according to the Ohio Department of Education:

August 17, 2011 – Tribune Chronicle (Warren, OH)

In Ohio, where 69 percent of the state’s recent graduates took the American College Test, the average composite score came in at 21.8, slightly higher than the national average composite of 21.1.

Patrick Gallaway, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said scoring throughout the state was “pretty much” what state education officials expected and is about the same that it has been.

“We haven’t really seen any trends indicating the scores going up,” Gallaway said. “This is better than going down, definitely.

”The main thing is that in Ohio our highest priority, of course, is to focus on college-readiness. The Common Core standards we use help with this and we’ll continue to focus on this and to encourage schools to focus on this as well,” Gallaway said.

So by these objective measures, Ohio’s graduates are performing at a rate that is beyond the national average.  Considering that less than 50% of them are attending public colleges you wouldn’t think there would be a demand for these remedial classes unless the colleges were manufacturing such a need.  Wait, did we mention that fewer than half of Ohio’s graduates are actually attending Ohio’s public colleges?

Let’s look at some statistics.

First up is a nine-year look at numbers provided by the Ohio Board of Regents:

The only significant change in the last nine years is the increase in the total number of public high school graduates.  In that time period, Ohio’s public colleges have not increased the percentage of students they are serving, nor have the “quality” of students changed.  What is most remarkable about this data is its lack of change over the time frame.  In fact, the consistency with which students enroll and are identified for remediation is almost formulaic on the part of the colleges.

Considering this data in conjunction with a slow and steady increase on ACT scores, Ohio’s consistently above-average results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and Ohio’s increasing graduation rate, we could make the case that while the quality of Ohio’s graduates is actually improving, the public colleges have failed to make adjustments to accommodate the increased numbers.  Further, the colleges’ steady identification of students for remediation fails to align with what other national measures are reporting.


Now let’s revisit the quote from Board of Regents Chancellor, Jim Petro.

All of our college-bound students should be college-ready, and we shouldn’t have to take a step back to get them prepared.

Remember that these are public colleges receiving taxpayer dollars.  To fortify this concept of having a responsibility to Ohio’s taxpayers, the colleges received just under $2 billion ($1,998,357,633 to be exact) from the state in 2011.  This budgetary item goes through the Board of Regents and is identified as the State Share of Instruction (SSI).  According to the funding report, this amount correlated to 416,653 students.  By comparison, Ohio’s public school districts received nearly $11 billion ($10,871,984,662; state & federal) to provide an education to over 1.7 million children.

A quick cost analysis for Ohio’s taxpayers reveals:

  • Colleges: $1,998,357,633 / 416,653 students = Average cost of $4796.22 per student
  • Public school systems: $10,871,984,662 / 1,749,247 students = Average cost of $6215.24 per student

Pretty good deal we’re getting on our public colleges until you realize….

  1. Colleges also charge the students tuition (full-time OSU undergrad pays $3,245 per quarter; $9,735 year).  Using this figure as an estimated amount for all Ohio college students (balances lower regional campus costs against higher graduate tuition) equals an additional $4 billion ($9735 x 416,653 = $4,056,116,955) in additional revenue for the colleges.  This figure more than triples our above calculation for the average cost per student.  (Adding in local funding for public schools does not even double their amount.)
  2. Ohio’s public colleges are serving only 44% of their potential pool of students and, with the new plan to eliminate “remedial” classes, would be reducing services to 41% of those students. Quick math reveals that 18% would be the approximate number of public school graduates who would be considered college-ready by Ohio’s public colleges after the elimination of remedial classes through the Board of Regents’ plan.

Imagine the response if Ohio’s other publicly funded schools simply stopped offering courses for those who weren’t “school-ready.”  Fortunately for us, we have some data in Ohio that let’s us simulate such a scenario.


In Ohio, the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment-Literacy (KRA-L) is required of all children entering kindergarten in public schools for the first time and is designed to assist educators in the evaluation of young children’s literacy skills. Students receive a composite score (on a scale from 0-29) which is reported to Ohio Department of Education.  The composite scores fall within three score bands that have been designed to guide decisions about further assessment and instruction for individual children and groups of children:

  • Band 1 (Composite scores 0-13): Assess broadly for intense instruction.
  • Band 2 (Composite scores 14-23): Assess for targeted instruction.
  • Band 3 (Composite scores 24-29): Assess for enriched instruction.

The best part about using this measure is that the school districts actually administer the assessment themselves, just as the colleges do with the course placements, so they both allow for a bit of subjectivity in the results.  Unlike the colleges screenings, though, “the KRA-L may not be used to determine entrance or placement in kindergarten.”

Using those bands as a guide, we could surmise that students who score in bands 2 or 3 are “school-ready” and can enter our public classrooms and receive age-appropriate instruction.  Those who score in band 1 appear to need remediation, but we’ve eliminated that option in our schools because it’s not cost efficient for us to offer classes to assist those who don’t meet our self-selected standard.  Those students will need to return home until they can obtain the appropriate school-ready skills necessary so that we can be successful in educating them.  As you can see from the chart, the KRA-L numbers are consistent across the years just like the remediation figures, plus the KRA-L counts are much smaller numbers than the 41% that the colleges are turning their backs on, so it should work out just fine.

In fact, bolstering the case in another strange way that corresponds to the Regents report is the use of KRA-L data as a predictor of success.  The report notes that a student taking remediation is less likely to graduate within six years of initially enrolling.  The colleges blame this on the student not being “college-ready” and use it in their argument that the high schools are to blame for such a student’s failure.  Look at the chart below comparing graduation and the number of students scoring in band 1 on the KRA-L.

These are admittedly not the same students across these bands, but a misuse of the data in this chart could lead one to believe that we’d simply be kicking out those who need remediation sooner rather than later.  Wouldn’t that technically reduce the cost of public education?  Sadly, there are people in our state who hold these misguided beliefs.

Knowing the reality of the data sets, we could instead be making the case that public schools are moving many children out of remediation and on to graduation throughout their schooling, an argument in favor of remedial coursework to help students become more successful.

This fictional example is absurd to think of in its application to publicly funded K-12 schools, so why is it being promoted for publicly funded colleges?  Publicly funded colleges where students are willing to pay thousands of dollars for an education?


Finally, imagine a scenario where high school programs are encouraged and allowed to blame students’ lack success at the secondary level on the middle schools. And instead of continuing to cater to students who are simply not “high school-ready,” the high schools are dictating what items the middle schools need to change in their curriculum.  The middle schools, ironically enough, have been following the state-adopted curriculum and have attained good scores on the state-mandated assessments.  The high schools are allowed to ignore these results and cut everything they deem to be of a remedial nature based on the secret standard they have elected to follow.  In this story, it’s the children who lose.  Children who are transitioning from one level to the next end up caught in the crossfire between the two schools and lose the opportunity to further their education through absolutely NO fault of their own.  And while the middle school can be said to be following the established rules, the high school has become an independent agent deciding who they wish to grace with an education.  And down the road when the number of graduates is at an unacceptable rate of only 24%, the middle school will take the blame while the high school will be revered for their high standards.

You think that’s unrealistic?  That’s the very scenario the Board of Regents and Ohio’s public universities are embracing through the release of this latest report and the accompanying news releases.

If an entire public school system had a graduation rate of 55%, would it be news?  What if only 24% of the students graduated?  Without a doubt.  So why doesn’t it make news when it’s publicly funded colleges?

The facts are all in the Board of Regents’ report:

For example, among full?time bachelor’s degree seeking students at Ohio’s public universities, 34% of those who took developmental coursework in their first year earned a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to a graduation rate of 69% for students who did not take developmental courses.

Now look back at the first chart we posted:

According to the report, 34% of those who took the remedial courses, and 69% of others graduated within 6 years.

  • 34% x 21,641 = 7,358 graduates (remedial coursework)
  • 69% x 31,141 = 21,488 graduates (non-remedial coursework)
  • 7,358 + 21,488 = 28,846 total graduates

With a starting enrollment of 52,782 students, that means that the graduation rate for Ohio’s publicly funded colleges is only 55%.  But if we hold them to the standard for Ohio’s other public schools, a standard that judges them on every student, then the number is severely deflated.  An embarrassingly low 24% of Ohio’s public high school graduates earns a degree from a publicly funded Ohio college within six years.

Instead of dropping developmental coursework from their offerings, the colleges should be investigating how they can offer better services for at-risk students to improve their retention and graduation rate. Ohio’s public colleges should be working to reduce the ever-increasing cost of tuition (capped at 3.5% per year) that is prohibitive to students from low-income families.  Students from low-income families who are more likely to demonstrate lower test scores, thereby being assigned remedial coursework by the college, resulting in additional classes at a substantially greater cost.  And unless the 41% of students who find themselves in the situation of being assigned an additional course or two receive targeted assistance from the publicly funded college, we shouldn’t be surprised that the majority of them (66%!) are dropping out.

Oh, right.  That’s the high schools’ problem.


There is one additional piece of information we need to throw in that speaks to some of the irrationality of this complaint about public school graduates and the “need” for new state standards.  In December 2001, Ohio adopted new K-12 Academic Content Standards for Mathematics and English/Language Arts.  To quote directly from the standards books:

Clear standards about what students should know and be able to do in reading, writing and mathematics is the first component of an aligned system that will ensure no child is left behind.

Therefore, in the 2002-2003 school year, districts around Ohio began implementing these new standards.  Ten years later, Ohio’s education leaders are decrying the need for reform, claiming our children are not prepared.  While many calls for reform focus on Ohio Graduation Test results and relatively stagnant national test results (e.g., ACT, NAEP), the Board of Regents report is focusing on actual high school graduates (class of 2009).  In all of these instances, the results being critiqued do not include the students who have been taught entirely under the 2001 standards.  The kindergarten class of 2002-2003 was the first group of students to fully experience those new state standards.

Those students are now high school freshmen and will take the Ohio Graduation Tests for the first time beginning March 11, 2013.