Fayette schools class to help students avoid college math remediation

Starting in the 2011-12 school year, Fayette County Public Schools will offer a college math prep class designed to help high school seniors avoid expensive, non-credit remedial classes when they enroll in Kentucky colleges.

The University of Kentucky Math Department is helping the Fayette schools structure the yearlong course, which will be aimed at seniors who have not achieved a benchmark math score on the ACT.

Some other large school districts around Kentucky are developing college prep classes, too. The state Department of Education also has designed prep classes in math and reading, called "transitional courses," that smaller school districts may use.

It's all part of a statewide push to get Kentucky's high school graduates better prepared for college as required under Senate Bill 1, the education reform adopted by the 2009 Kentucky General Assembly.

The legislation sets a 2014 deadline for cutting in half the number of Kentucky students needing college remediation in math and reading. Also, there's a state regulation requiring students to have four years of mathematics in high school starting with the Class of 2012.

Currently, the state Council on Postsecondary Education requires students entering Kentucky colleges to take remedial classes unless they have at least a 19 math score and a 20 reading score on the ACT. The math requirement is higher for those entering fields like science or engineering with heavy emphasis on mathematics.

State data released in September showed that only 34 percent of students who graduated from Kentucky public high schools in spring 2010 were ready for college or careers. Fayette County Public Schools graduates did a little better, with 44 percent of them college- or career-ready, according to the report.

Fayette school officials are hoping the district's new math prep course will help.

Here's how the plan will work:

This year's junior class will take the ACT in March. Those who don't score at least 22 on the math portion will be eligible for the new math prep class as seniors in August. All five Fayette high schools will offer the class.

While the postsecondary education council requires a 19 ACT math score, Fayette County set its benchmark higher to give students more flexibility, according to Natalee Feese, the district's math coordinator.

"The reason we did that is because you must score at least a 21 on the ACT if you want to take college algebra, and if you get a lower score you have to take a remedial class before taking the algebra," Feese explained. "College algebra is a prerequisite for a lot of courses, so we want our graduates to be able to take college algebra if they want."

According to Feese, students would spend their first semester in the prep class working on their math weaknesses. The second semester would be devoted to statistics and other advanced concepts. Students in the prep class then could retake the ACT in March 2012. If their mathematics scores reached the 22 benchmark, they could count on skipping remedial math in college.

Mike McKenzie, the Fayette district's high schools director, said that freeing students from having to take college remedial math would be a financial boon for them and their parents.

"You can save a good chunk of money if you don't have to pay for a college remedial class that you get no credit for," McKenzie said.

UK officials say it's hard to calculate exactly how much math remediation costs a typical student. In addition to the expense, David Royster, math outreach professor at UK, said that having to take a non-credit remedial class can throw students out of sequence as far as completing course requirements in their majors. Depending on the major, that could mean an extra year in college, he said.

Royster, who is helping Fayette County craft its math prep class, said that completing the new class should help put seniors "right on track" for college, especially because many students who take no math in their last year of high school tend to forget many of the concepts

While the prep class's main goal will be raising math scores, it also will seek to make students more comfortable with math, he said.

"We want them to have the ability to read math problems and not be afraid," Royster said. "More than anything, I'd like to get students to understand that solving problems is doable and might actually be enjoyable."

Meanwhile, Fayette County Public Schools are working on another plan that could free many students from having to take college math. Starting next fall, the district will offer two classes, Math 109 and 123, that will carry dual high school and college credit.

"We intentionally chose those two courses because completing them would fulfill the university math requirement for many students," Feese said.