NORMAL - Heartland Community College and schools within its district are attempting to address the problem of some high school graduates not being ready for college.
A recent report from an American Association of State Colleges and Universities task force, “Serving America’s Future: Increasing College Readiness,” concluded that U.S. educational achievement is “on a downward trajectory” requiring too many resources being devoted to remedial education.
At Heartland, about 75 percent of its students take at least one “developmental” course — the overwhelming majority needing math help.
The courses include a computer-based mathematics course that allows students to move at their own pace, and a reading program that attempts to break old habits and rewire the brain on how to read and comprehend.
Heartland President Allen Goben said the math course went into full-scale use last year and is showing good results. It allows students to move quickly through the material they understand and to zero in on what’s not clear.
Illinois State University Provost Sheri Everts said ISU attracts “very talented students” who transition well from high school to college, but there are support services for those who need it.
The only remedial courses offered at ISU are developmental math classes. About 500 students a semester take one of the courses, said Pamm Ambrose, associate director of University College, a program designed to assist students with the transition to ISU. Writing assistance, tutoring and workshops on study skills and time management are offered in addition to the math courses.
One of the problems with traditional lecture classes, where everyone moves at the same pace, is “some students are bored and some people are lost,” said Jeremy McClure, Heartland’s instructional chairman of mathematics and science.
At Heartland, said Breezy Seggerman, associate director of the developmental math center, students are required to come to the math lab four hours a week. Instructors and facilitators are there at specific times.
Seggerman said students raise a “flag” — actually, a red plastic cup — when “they get stuck,” and receive individualized assistance.
Lisa Cole, professor of reading, said students end up in developmental reading for a variety of reasons.
“It could be that they didn’t get it the first time around,” she said. “With others, they can read … but they may not know how to read academic disciplinary textbooks.”
Using a methodology called “Read Right,” students are taken back to a point where they could read fluently, then exercises are used to build on that, she said. The process has worked well, with significantly higher test scores after 17½ hours of instruction.
Heartland also offers tutoring and other student assistance.
While such courses help, the national association wants more to be done before students tackle college-level work. Preparation must start well before high school, according to the report.
One way elementary and high schools are addressing that is by adopting common core standards that emphasize college and career readiness.
Another way colleges can help high schools improve student preparation is by providing timely feedback on how their graduates perform, the task force concluded.
“I think it’s highly useful to give that feedback,” said Goben, but at this point, Heartland doesn’t have the “data infrastructure” to adequately track students and identify factors that lead to success or failure.
One way ISU helps, said Everts, is having professors work with the lab schools and other schools, “assisting in the K-12 environment.”
Goben would like to develop closer relationships between Heartland and high schools through joint professional development programs that bring together high school and college instructors who teach the same subjects.
The task force also recommended preparing students for the rigors of college by having them take college classes while still in high school. Referred to as dual credit classes, students receive both high school and college credit.
Lincoln College, a private school with campuses in Lincoln and Normal, offers two science, two English and four math courses for dual credit at Lincoln Community High School.
“It’s been a good relationship. Curriculum-wise, we have to go by Lincoln College standards, and there is the obvious benefit of high school students getting college credit before they start college,” said LCHS principal Todd Poelker.
Heartland offers dual credit classes at about a dozen schools and Goben said he wants to expand that program.
Both McLean County Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87 are interested.
Currently, students in those districts can only get dual credit if they are taking classes at the Bloomington Area Career Center, and those are from Illinois Central College and Joliet Junior College. There are no dual credit options in the general education area at Unit 5 and District 87 high schools.
“We are working with Heartland Community College to offer more dual credits in 2013-2014,” said Unit 5 Superintendent Gary Niehaus.
At University High School, an ISU lab school, about 20 students take dual credit courses at ISU or Heartland each semester. ISU is within walking distance and students provide their own transportation to Heartland, said guidance counselor Karen Valouche.
The task force also says “strong teacher preparation programs” are essential to the overall strategy.
Barbara Meyer, chairwoman of ISU’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, agreed that “having strong teachers provides K-12 students with opportunities to be successful after school, whether it’s college or a job.”
Not everyone can or wants to go to college, she noted, but “the possibility of every child going to college should be there.”
Phyllis Coulter contributed to this report.