Thursday, January 22, 2009

Needs of low-income students being met

This from the Messenger-Inquirer by way of KSBA:
Kentucky’s system of elementary and secondary education faces many challenges. Two of them were highlighted in articles that appeared in this newspaper in recent days. One is the challenge of educating students who come from lower socio-economic circumstances while the other is the difficulty school districts face trying to make sure high school students are prepared for the rigors of post-secondary education.

There’s good news on the first issue. A study from the Center for Educational Research in Appalachia, housed at Eastern Kentucky University, found that a good number of schools in the Owensboro area are exceeding expectations. The Owensboro school district and Hancock County, McLean County, Muhlenberg County and Ohio County school districts are among the 35 districts the study identified as outperforming expectations. In other words, the districts are doing well even though their numbers of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are high.

Students from lower income families very often face barriers in school that other students do not. Schools and school districts must exert a lot of energy to leveling the playing field for their students and making sure that all students have the opportunity and the assistance to perform at high levels. We have seen this demonstrated in strong CATS results throughout this region and are happy to see it verified by an independent study that focuses on performance by districts with significant populations of economically challenged students. Our congratulations go out to them.

News out of northern Kentucky underlines a problem that isn’t new to this state. For a long time, the number of Kentucky high school graduates needing remedial courses when they reach college has been too high and continues to rise. Northern Kentucky University is taking an approach that involves direct intervention before students reach its campus.

In Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties, NKU is working with school superintendents to develop an assessment of high school juniors’ basic skills in math and reading. Students who don’t measure up can take remedial classes before they enter college. That has obvious potential to really help them, and will be good for cash-strapped colleges if they can commit fewer resources to remedial instruction.

While the NKU approach is good, it shouldn’t be necessary. By the time a Kentucky high school student reaches the 11th grade, he or she should have long-since mastered basic reading and math skills. If they haven’t, their chances at succeeding in college, even with remedial help, is probably in jeopardy. This is a tough problem for Kentucky school districts and the higher education community. If left unresolved, the mandate that calls for significantly raising the number of Kentucky residents who hold college degrees may be impossible to achieve. We welcome the NKU approach but look forward to the day when it won’t be needed anywhere in Kentucky.

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