In the United States today nearly 56% of students entering 2-year institutions start in remedial classes according to Complete College America. In Montana our percentage of students in need of remediation is very much in line with the national average. Time after time at K-12 and higher education conferences and meetings we hear this statistic and many others regarding low college completion rates, length of time spent in remedial programs and the significant cost of tuition to students and parents. Whose fault is it? Why can’t high schools do a better job preparing students for college mathematics and English? Why do colleges rely so heavily on “one shot” placement exams that many times result in under-placement of students and require them to enroll in one or more remedial courses before starting their real college program? Whose responsibility is it to close the gap? And so it has gone on like this for years as student after student leaves high school and ends up in the quagmire of developmental college courses. Who’s at fault doesn’t really matter. What does matter is finding ways, right now, to help students who are in this situation.
At the Montana Digital Academy (MTDA), located in the University of Montana’s Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, we have chosen to seek solutions for the practical reality of too many students spending time and money taking developmental courses. MTDA seemed the perfect organizational “fit” to help bridge the gap and begin building partnerships between K-12 and Higher Education as we have developed relationships with nearly all Montana high schools serving their students with online comprehensive and remedial high school courses since 2010. Further, our unique, one of a kind statewide virtual school – University partnership with the University of Montana (UM) provided a working relationship with the two- and four-year institutions that comprise the Montana University System (MUS). Capitalizing on these relationships we are implementing a new online project, EdReady Montana, which will also be offered to students at the tribal and private colleges in the state. EdReady Montana, a customized version of the NROC Project’s EdReady, is a tool that helps schools and colleges answer the question “what do I want my students to be ready for in mathematics?” It is an easy to access online assessment and personalized academic intervention tool which allows each student to receive assistance designed to meet their unique individual learning needs and goals in mathematics and in the near future in English as well.
In the summer of 2013, in partnership with NROC and the Office of Student Success at UM, MTDA conducted a pilot with enrolling university freshman students who were offered the opportunity to improve their math placement test score by voluntarily participating in the project and using EdReady. The students in the pilot were not yet on the UM campus and used EdReady Montana from home or other remote locations. Results were quite remarkable in that over 80% of the student participants increased their placement test scores after using the tool and qualified for a higher-level mathematics course that fall at UM. Students were able to avoid enrolling in a total of 49 non-credit bearing courses with a cumulative tuition savings of $31,000. Students were impressed with the fact that they were able to do this at their own pace, place and time before arriving on campus. (A case study is available at http://vlallianceorg.wpengine.com/research-and-reports/.)
Following the successful pilot MTDA, in partnership with and assistance from the College of Education’s Dean Roberta Evans and UM President Royce Engstrom, sought and received funding from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation to implement a 3-year field test and rollout of EdReady Montana. The generous gift from the Washington Foundation, a major philanthropic foundation in Montana of which education is a key focus area, is enabling MTDA to offer EdReady Montana to all 7-12 grade secondary students in the state, as well as any higher education student including non-traditional students such as individuals wishing to enter or re-enter college. EdReady Montana is the first statewide implementation of the online college readiness system in the U.S. and the project offers up to 150,000 Montana students the opportunity to establish an account and have access to EdReady Montana in each of the three years.
In the first year of the project, which has mainly been a mixture of field testing and rollout, the focus has been on working with colleges and schools to develop successful prototype use cases that will serve as models which can be replicated throughout the state with local entities customizing the tool for their students. Some examples of the higher education use cases that have emerged are a preparation tool for newly accepted university freshman aligned to exisiting mathematics placement tests, in much the same way as the initial pilot, and a companion/co-requisite to exisiting college level math courses allowing for individualized differentiated instruction. Evolving secondary school uses cases are a summer school “boot camp “refresher program in pre-algebra, algebra, geometry and algebra II for high school students and as an algebra readiness tool for middle school students.
It is still early in this initiative, but the positive reaction to EdReady Montana and its impact on secondary and higher education students reaches from the middle school and high school classrooms to the university campuses and on to the offices of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Higher Education and the Governor of Montana. This positive reaction is generating “hands across the aisle” discussions around solutions to college and career readiness needs for all Montana students. Very refreshing!
Robert Currie, Executive Director, Montana Digital Academy
More information on EdReady Montana is available at www.edreadymontana.org.