Monday, January 09, 2006

2-year schools moving the bar

Yet another story to show how the public education system is failing our children. The story below came from the Daily Herald and can be viewed by clicking on the title above. The Daily Herald has been head and shoulders above the rest of the newspapers in Northern Illinois reporting on education issues. Bravo to Emily Krone and the Daily Herald for its excellent reporting.

2-year schools moving the bar
More community colleges requiring more students to take remedial courses

By Emily Krone
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Sunday, January 08, 2006

Doors to Illinois community colleges remain wide open.

But, increasingly, doors to certain classes are starting to close.

Faced with a growing number of unprepared students, local community colleges are instituting tougher enrollment standards for everything from entry-level English to advanced physics.

Students who don’t demonstrate mastery of basic reading, writing and math skills must play catch-up in pre-collegiate classes that don’t count toward a degree — a major shift for institutions known for inclusiveness, accessibility and flexibility.

Elgin Community College’s new minimum competency policy is “the most significant thing we’ve ever done in terms of changing the climate” on campus, said writing professor Patrick Parks, who sits on the academic policy committee that recommended the change.

The new policy requires that ECC students post a certain score on standardized tests to enroll in classes that count toward graduation at a four-year university. Students who do not score high enough must enroll in remedial classes.

Enrollment will shift by about 20 percent as more students are funneled into remedial classes, Vice President for Instruction and Student Services Gena Glickman estimated.

The college this year would have required 15 additional sections of remedial reading to accommodate the students who failed the reading test administered to all first-time, full-time students.

Of those tested, 67 percent placed into developmental writing, 20 percent into developmental reading and 90 percent into developmental math.

Under the new policy, enrollment in remedial classes would have been compulsory for those students.

“We want to make sure we’re teaching at an appropriate level and not watering down content,” Glickman said.

Ready or not

Community college officials said the changes are necessary because so many students don’t have a firm grasp of the fundamentals.

“In the English department, we’ve been keenly aware of the erosion of basic skills in writing,” said Parks. “It’s pretty well-documented nationwide.”

College of Lake County officials have been working to upgrade remedial classes for the past three years because students there aren’t meeting requirements for more advanced classes, Vice President for Education Affairs DeRionne Pollard said.

Several years ago the college instituted new minimum requirements for classes that transfer to four-year colleges.

McHenry County College officials put new standards in place also after noticing an increase in students unprepared to take college-level courses.

“The impetus was that we have seen students coming into our courses and not succeeding as well as they wanted to, and that’s because students came a bit unprepared,” said Keith Snow-Flamer, MCC’s assistant vice president for learning.

The reasons for the increase in unqualified students are many — from many different types of people enrolling in college to more people graduating from high school without basic skills.

And the implications are clear, college officials said.

Students who enroll in classes without proper preparation often end up withdrawing before the end of the semester, Glickman said.

In addition to losing money, students miss the opportunity to address the gaps in their knowledge.

Qualified students lose out also.

“It has a tendency to change the whole demeanor of the class,” Parks said. “At a college composition level, I shouldn’t still be teaching parts of speech.”

Student reaction

Student response to the change at ECC has been mixed, Parks said.

“Some fear there will be a lot of extra coursework,” he said.

That’s a valid concern, according to Donna Younger, director of Oakton Community College’s Learning Center.

Elgin’s approach can “slow progress considerably,” Younger said. “Some may not be going on to a four-year college, so they’d be penalized, in the greater sense, by having to … ensure transferability when they don’t plan to transfer.”

But students adjust quickly to tougher standards, said McHenry County College’s Snow-Flamer.

“It will be a change. There was a change here,” he said. “After it’s been in place for a while, it just becomes routine.”

•Daily Herald staff writers Chad Brooks, Erin Holmes, Mike Riopell, Leslie Hague and Cathi Edman contributed to this report.

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