Remedial Ed audit finds systemic deficiencies in KS school system

(The Sentinel) – A recently released state audit disclosed that about a third of Kansas high school graduates took at least one remedial course in college.  High school and college educators mostly cite deficiencies in the public education system as causing the need for developmental education courses in college, yet the Department of Education declined to respond to the findings.

The Kansas Division of Legislative Post Audit (KLRD) released a limited-scope audit on March 7 at a House K-12 Budget Committee hearing.  It was designed to answer this question: What do stakeholders say about why developmental college courses are necessary?

The auditors sent surveys to 342 post-secondary instructors who teach developmental education courses, and 144 responded.  They also sent surveys to 11,547 high school teachers, principals, and guidance counselors, and 1,559 responded.

The audit discloses that “a little more than 11,000 Kansas high school graduates were enrolled in at least one developmental education course” in the 2019-20 academic year (the year before COVID).  For perspective, that is about a third of all high school graduates in Kansas, and that only counts graduates who enrolled in a developmental education course.  Many more likely need remedial training given that the state assessment showed 77% of the 2019 graduates needed some degree of remedial training in math when they were in the 10th Grade, and 71% needed some remedial training in English language arts.

Post-secondary survey respondents cited several significant factors prompting the need for developmental coursework.  Students being out of high school for a considerable amount of time is the leading factor they cite, with 63% calling it a significant factor and 29% saying it is a minor factor.  The other factors the audit cites directly reflect the public school system.

  • The student is not a native English speaker and still needs language support – 49% significant and 41% minor.
  • The student did not take the appropriate coursework in high school – 43% significant and 44% minor.
  • High school content is not adequate to prepare students for college coursework – 43% significant and 44% minor.
  • State high school graduation requirements do not adequately prepare students for college – 34% significant and 49% minor.

The most critical factor cited by the high school survey respondents is lack of educational support at home (69% significant, 28% minor).  Their other observations are similar to post-secondary participants, although perhaps even more damning concerns about the public school system.

  • The student received passing grades without mastering the content – 65% significant and 30% minor.
  • The student did not take the appropriate coursework in high school – 50% significant and 43% minor.
  • The content of high school courses is not adequate to prepare students for college coursework – 31% significant and 50% minor.
  • The student had special needs that were not adequately addressed in high school – 23% significant and 55% minor
  • State high school graduation requirements do not adequately prepare students for college – 20% significant and 47% minor.

Committee Chair Kristey Williams said, “Achievement data, whether students can read and do basic math at grade level, should be in the forefront of school boards’ minds as those boards allocate their funds. Ensuring teachers have what they need in the classroom must be top priority.”

Mike McShane is with EdChoice, which promotes school choice initiatives in Kansas and elsewhere: “Student progress is determined by a host of in and out of school factors that vary wildly from community to community. It is important that schools and systems are flexible to accommodate the different needs that young people have. Unfortunately, many of our school systems are simply too rigid and don’t allow students the time and space to take the courses that they need when they need to take them. A more flexible, choice-driven system could help better match students to the courses that they need to take to meet with success after high school.”

Blake Flanders, President and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents offered that his organization’s Future of Higher Education Council has a recommendation for policymakers to consider: “The Council recommends the Kansas Board of Regents implement/ incentivize systemwide corequisite remediation in math and English. Corequisite remediation allows students who need additional support in college-level math and English to enroll in those credit-bearing courses and receive extra help. In most cases, students take an additional support course that is paired with the traditional college course or attend supplemental lab sessions.”

The Kansas Department of Education had no comment.  A response was not required because the audit did not make any recommendations, but reluctance to address systemic deficiencies is not surprising.  Last year, KSDE officials were caught trying to reduce standards to make achievement appear to be much higher.