by L. REED WALTON
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Success in college depends a great deal on Maryland students taking challenging courses in high school, a new higher education study reveals.
College-bound high school students graduating without four years of English and at least three years of mathematics needed much more help in reading and writing and especially in math at the college level, the Maryland Higher Education Commission study said.
"A very large percentage of Maryland's college-bound students--it exceeds one third--enter a Maryland college or university without that kind of rigorous preparatory program," said the study's main author, Dr. Michael J. Keller, the director of policy analysis and research at the Higher Education Commission.
The study divides students into "core" and "non-core" groups, or those who take the high school courses that the University System of Maryland deems appropriate for college preparation--four years of English, at least three of mathematics and social science, and two years of natural sciences and foreign language--and those who do not.
"Core" students have shown consistently higher grade point averages after the first year of college math and college English than "non-core" students since the study began to separate the two groups in 2002.
Keller emphasizes in his introduction that rates of students needing remedial math classes in college have been steadily rising for every graduating class and every demographic group over the past six years.
The question, he said, isn't why students who take tougher courses score higher, but how to get the message across to schools, teachers and parents that taking the right courses is essential to being prepared for college.
Maryland education officials have a number of different viewpoints on just how that can be achieved.
"We're losing kids in the middle school in math," said Dr. Anne Osborn Emery, a member of the higher education commission. "A large part of these kids not getting to Algebra II [in high school] is that they can't do math in the middle schools."
Emery, chair of the commission's Education Policy Committee, believes that making higher math such as Algebra II and Trigonometry requirements for graduation might cut down on the growing numbers of students who need help with college math.
Keller believes the growing numbers of students in remedial courses in college has more to do with lack of information about what it takes to succeed in college than it does with number or quality of classes in high school.
"Some students can be in their junior or senior year and think, 'Yeah, I really do want to go to college,'" said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. Reinhard said some of the basic classes students like that would take in college would not be remedial because they had not had a chance to take them in high school.
Victor Bernson, Jr., also a member of the Education Policy Committee, just believes there is far too much finger-pointing going on between K-12 school leadership and higher education leadership, and not nearly enough dialogue. "Let's not just put this report in everybody's mailbox," said Bernson, who was recently appointed to the K-16 Leadership Council, a group of delegates from the State Department of Education, the Higher Education Commission and the University System of Maryland. "Let's make this an action item that everyone...will get a presentation on, and then begin the dialogue."
In related news, Salisbury University wants to be the first public college in Maryland to make the SAT optional. Jane Dane, Dean of Enrollment Management at Salisbury, noted that one of the reasons they want to change the admissions process is because of an unusually large dip in statewide scores on the revised SAT test last year. Critics argue that dropping the SAT requirement would be yet another crippling move against the American education system that will further hamper the United States' ability to compete economically against emerging nations like India where a good education is highly valued.