January 17, 2013

Report: Maine grads more ready for college than others

Data shows less of a need for remedial work, adding a new debate point on school quality.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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"The demographic that we work with has a significant percentage of students for whom the idea of attending college may not have been a family assumption, or a longstanding goal," said Headmaster Rene Menard. "We believe that many of these students are definitely capable of college work. Our demographic has a lot of those students and we push them to reach, to think of themselves as college students."

The college systems have multiple programs to reduce remediation rates.

Janet Sortor, vice president and dean of academic affairs at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, said the college has formed partnerships with high schools, participated in New England regional conferences on best practices, and is working closely with the high schools and the University of Maine System to lower the remediation figures.

"It's something we've really been grappling with," Sortor said. "The real big concern is that this isn't about blaming anybody. We're working together to try to fix this. I hope what the Legislature does with this is thoughtful and more nuanced and a linking of arms for what we can do here."

Sortor noted that remediation is needed mainly in math, often because high school students don't know what career fields they may go into and don't take enough math in high school. When they arrive at college, they're behind.

Kayley Wilcox, a media studies major at USM, had to take remedial math and English courses, despite graduating from Bonny Eagle High School in 2009 with a 3.2 grade point average.

"I figured college was going to be different than high school," said Wilcox, who started at USM in 2011 after working for two years. "In high school, I was fighting the whole math thing."

That is a typical experience, researchers say. Students who can choose how much math to take may opt out before they have enough to be ready for college. That's one of the reasons many policymakers are pushing for a more specific math and science focus in high school.

Other college students, like Wilcox, haven't taken a math course for a few years and are out of practice.

Rosa Redonnett, chief student affairs officer for the University of Maine System, agreed, saying all high school students need algebra 1, algebra 2 and geometry to do college-level math.

"Too often, students come in with huge deficiencies," Redonnett said. "They could be looking at (having to take) two or three (remedial) courses, and that's ridiculous."

Remedial courses cost the same as other courses, but don't count toward graduation.

Both college systems varied widely by campus for how many students needed remedial course work.

Because of high academic standards at the University of Maine in Orono, there are essentially no remedial students -- they simply aren't admitted if they need those classes, Redonnett said.

But at the UMaine system campuses in Augusta and Machias, which are close to "open admission" institutions, remediation rates were 37 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

Sortor and Redonnett agreed that there are likely improvements ahead. Both noted that Maine is working to implement the rigorous new national Common Core curriculum, meant to improve performance in subjects such as math and reading.

State Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, who serves on the Legislature's Education Committee and is a former chair of that panel, also was pleased with the report.

"It tells me that students are being better prepared to meet the challenges of university work," he said in a prepared statement.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:


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