Postsecondary Remedial Math Data

The Iowa Department of Education announced a new website today, Iowa’s Postsecondary Readiness Reports, which, among other things, is meant to report student enrollment in remedial math and English courses at two- and four-year postsecondary institutions. The website offers information by individual Iowa high school and by demographic groups.

Radio Iowa reports:

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says the report provides “more precise information” to help craft new policies and spending priorities.

But, as always, details matter, because the definition of remedial math is non-credit bearing math courses. Remedial math is not defined as retaking math courses already passed for credit at the high school level. Remedial math is not defined as having to take math courses that are pre-requisites for first year math courses for your major. Parents paying college prices for math courses already taken in high school might disagree with the State’s definition of “remedial.”

At the University of Iowa, credit bearing course work begins with College Algebra, even though many majors require students to be prepared to start with a pre-calculus or a calculus course. Only students placing into Basic Algebra will be counted as enrolling in a remedial math course. Consequently, the “more precise information” in these reports, don’t actually help school districts understand whether their students are having to retake math courses already passed at the high school or whether their students are really prepared to start with the first year math courses required for their selected majors. In short, the remedial course enrollment percentages will look the same for Iowa high schools that are preparing the majority of their students well for placement in calculus courses and those that are preparing the majority of their students for placement in College Algebra and Trigonometry courses.

This statistic, like high school graduation rates, isn’t difficult to game. We could drive remediation rates even lower by pressuring four-year institutions to grant credit for Basic Algebra, too. Despite all the talk about the importance of STEM education in Iowa, we still aren’t collecting (sharing?) the information we need to assess how well schools are preparing students for first year college math courses.

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