UpdatedClick here to go to EdNews’ most recent remediation database.

For five years, the number of Colorado public high school graduates required to take at least one remedial class in college has held fast at 32 percent.

Peel back the statewide numbers, though, and fluctuations emerge in districts and in schools.

Nearly nine out of ten graduates of one Denver high school needed remedial help when they enrolled in a state college or university. In another Denver high school, it was fewer than one in ten.

Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, has cut its remediation rate by nearly 5 percentage points in five years. Aurora’s remediation rate has grown by more than twice that figure since 2004.

“We’re serious about it because it’s in our vision,” said Aurora Superintendent John Barry, referring to the district’s vision statement, which reads “To graduate every student with the choice to attend college without remediation.”

“This data is going to go a long way to help us,” Barry said Monday. “We’ll be in the process of working with each one of the universities to find out what is it specifically that each one of our kids need to work on.”

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The state’s public colleges and universities use a variety of measures, including the ACT college entrance exam and the Accuplacer, to determine whether incoming freshmen are ready for college-level reading, writing and math.

For graduates of Aurora Public Schools, as is true statewide and in national studies, the most common deficiency is in math. In Colorado, only 30 percent of 10th graders achieved proficiency on the state’s 2009 math exam.

Denver Public Schools, like Aurora, has recently reported gains in student achievement and indicators such as student retention through grade 12. But the DPS remediation rate is up nearly 6 percentage points in five years and the APS rate is up 11 points.

“No,” was the flat response of Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg when asked if the push to raise graduation rates has resulted in less-prepared students.

“This is the urgency of the reform effort,” Boasberg said. “We are making progress, making improvements in a number of areas, but we aren’t anywhere near where we need to be in the critical issue of, are our kids graduating prepared for college or career?”

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Barry pointed out the remediation rates are a “trailing indicator,” meaning they lag in time and may not yet reflect the growth made in other areas. The most recent 2009 report, for example, is for incoming freshman in 2008.

That’s so the Colorado Commissioner on Higher Education, which prepares the annual reports for state lawmakers, can gauge whether students are passing or failing in their remedial courses.

The CCHE’s 2009 report, released this month, lists a passing rate of 62 percent for remedial courses taken in fall 2008 and spring 2009.

It also shows a state general fund cost of $13.1 million to offer the classes, plus another $11.7 million in tuition paid by students.

Ed News Colorado’s analysis of five years’ worth of remediation rates stripped out any students not directly linked to a state public high school – the CCHE reports typically fold in some out-of-state students and private school grads.

The analysis also removed any schools with fewer than 25 graduates attending a Colorado college or university because the CCHE, apparently seeking to protect student privacy, declines to publicly list their remediation rates.

On average, Colorado public high schools produce 19,000 to 20,000 graduates annually who attend a state college or university. More than 6,000 students each year has needed remediation in at least one subject.

Between 75 and 83 percent of those taking remedial classes in each of the past five years needed math help.

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One school, Jeffco’s D’Evelyn High School, has achieved the lowest required remediation rate for four of the past five years, with rates hovering between 1 and 6 percent.

Another school, Denver’s West High School, has had the state’s highest remediation rates for the past two years. West’s most recent remediation rate was 86.8 percent, the highest reported by any Colorado high school in the past five years.

Since 2004, West’s remediation rate has increased by 20 percentage points.

“Thank you for asking about West because West is the forgotten school,” said DPS board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents the area.

Jimenez said district changes, from allowing the Center for International Studies to move out of West in 2006 and shifting a program for English language learners away last year, have “devastated” its enrollment and resources.

West’s enrollment has dropped by nearly 600 students in the past five years, hitting below 800 this past fall.

Boasberg said DPS is focused on West, which is rated as “on probation” or “red” under the district’s school rating system.

“It’s not just one school, it’s an entire feeder pattern question,” he said. “This is the data that highlights the importance to us of the changes we need.”

Click here to see the remediation reports prepared by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

How do Colorado’s remediation rates compare nationally?

There are similar patterns – more students are assigned to math remediation than any other subject nationally and far more students nationally attending 2-year community colleges need remediation than those at 4-year universities.

In Colorado, for 2008-09, 20 percent of students enrolled at state 4-year schools needed remediation compared to 53 percent at 2-year programs. These numbers include out-of-state and private school graduates.

National numbers tend to be old and are disputed. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20 percent of incoming freshmen at 4-year schools in 1995 and 2000 needed remediation as did 42 percent of those at community colleges.

But some believe the true figures are much higher. In a November 2009 report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, co-author Michael W. Kirst cites a 1999 study of transcripts to support his belief that 60 percent of new community college students require remedial help.

Colorado’s findings, and national research, point to the same result — students who need remedial help in college, whether in 2-year or 4-year programs, are less likely to complete their degrees.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@pebc.org or 303-478-4573.

***Some notes about the data: “Total students” refers to the total number of a school’s or district’s graduates who enrolled in a Colorado college or university and were therefore counted in the CCHE reports. “Remediation rate” refers to the percentage of the total who were assigned to remediation in at least one class. “Poverty rate” refers to the percentage of students in a school who quality for federal lunch assistance.