MONTROSE – Almost half of high schools graduates from the Montrose and Olathe School District are in need of some form of remedial education, according to recent report by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The findings have district officials disappointed, and motivated to fix the problem.
The study concludes that 44 percent of Montrose and Olathe graduates require postsecondary remedial or developmental education, once they reach trade school or college – almost five points higher than the state average.
"We are not pleased with that number," said Mindy Baumgardner, communications and special projects coordinator for the district. Baumgardner said the district approved a new strategic plan earlier this year with an updated vision of propelling graduates into postsecondary education without remedial education.
Remedial education programs aim to bring underprepared students up to standards expected of new entrants to postsecondary education, and can often prolong the traditional four-year college experience. Nationwide, 41 percent of all new college freshmen in the United States began postsecondary education with remedial coursework, according to a recent study of high school graduates.
At Montrose High School, Principal James Barnhill said the challenge at his school is accomplishing more with less staff. The district has cut nearly 100 employees over the past four years, with 15 staff members cut at MHS alone.
As a result, Barnhill said, class schedules have been reduced from eight periods a day to seven, to allow teachers more prep time with new data packets giving them a breakdown of their students’ performance.
The workload with those packets, Barnhill said, is greater for high school teachers, who receive data on 150 students, as opposed to elementary school teachers, who may receive data on just 25 students.
"It's not more work, but it’s more kids. It can be complicated to individualize that," Barnhill said.
Barnhill and Baumgardner both agree that socioeconomic variables, such as unemployment and poverty, must be taken into account when determining the strength of Montrose and Olathe students entering the post-secondary phase of their education.
"Kids in poverty struggle with student achievement. Does that mean they can't learn? No, they just have different factors or reasons," Barnhill said.
Currently, the number of Montrose County students on the government's Free or Reduced Lunch Program, FARM, is at 57 percent. In 2011, 37 percent of Montrose County graduates on FARM, according to the Colorado Department of Higher Education report. (The state average of high school graduates on FARM is 42 percent.)
Montrose County, as of July, was listed with an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent – nearly three points higher than Ouray, San Miguel, Delta, Mesa and Gunnison counties. (The state average at in the same time frame was 7.1 percent.)
With those troubling numbers in mind, educators in the district are trying new things to get students interested in pursuing post-secondary education. The MHS cafeteria was recently remodeled, with new lighting, seating arrangements, a coffee bar and new televisions to make the atmosphere seem like a college student center.
"We want our kids to stay on campus as long as possible," Barnhill said.
Also at MHS, a renewed push is being launched for students to better prepare for ACT testing which determines where and at what level a graduate can pursue post- secondary education.
As a result, "Kids take the ACT more serious; they know the ACT helps them accomplish their goals in life. It allows them to go to the school of their choice. They know the better they do on the ACT the better access to scholarships they will have," Barnhill said.
Baumgardner said the district is also working this year to improve the integration of math curriculums for middle school students so that they will transition better from geometry to algebra. To that end, Baumgardner said, eighth grade students will begin working with guidance counselors on preparing college placement plans once they reach high school next year.
The same Colorado Department of Higher Education report found Montrose County graduates taking college-level courses was only 4.2 percent, compared to the state average of 18 percent.
Of the district’s 404 graduates in 2011, just 171 of those students were listed as "College-Going" students.The report also determined 58 percent of Montrose School district graduates were listed as "not enrolled" in college, compared to the state average of 43 percent, and that Montrose County graduates in their first year of postsecondary education scored an average 2.66 GPA for 26.5 credit hours, in relation to the state average of 2.67 for 28.28 credit hours.
The report also found 73 percent of Montrose graduates were enrolled in an in-state, four-year institution. About 17 percent enrolled in four-year, out-of-state institution; 5 percent enrolled in an in-state, two-year institution and 5 percent enrolled in a two-year, out-of-state school.
The first year retention rate, or the number of freshmen returning after their first year of post-secondary instruction, was two points higher than the state average of 83 percent.
About 66 percent of white students made up the 2011 total graduates, compared to 31 percent of Hispanic students. That differential grows, however, in college, with 73 percent of white graduates, and 23 percent Hispanic.