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Kansas Districts Add Math Course To Ease Transition From High School

Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service

A new math class being piloted by dozens of high schools across Kansas seeks to save students stress, time and money when they reach college.

Currently, about one-third of students who continue to two- and four-year colleges in Kansas don’t score high enough on placement tests to enroll directly in college algebra, a class most need in order to graduate.

Instead, they work their way up through remedial classes, a process that can take multiple semesters.

Melissa Fast, a math specialist with the Kansas State Department of Education, said that adds to the expense of higher education.

“If I had five courses and they were three hours each, that’s 15 hours,” she said. “And if they’re $100, that’s $1,500 I’m paying out of my pocket just for that class.”

Moreover, the remedial math classes — or developmental classes, as they’re also called — don’t count for college credit and can’t be paid for with student loans.

Jim Porter, chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education and a former superintendent of the Fredonia school district, expressed hope that Kansas’ new one-year class, introduced last school year, would have an impact.

“I find that unacceptable,” he said of the current remediation rates among high school graduates. “And this is an effort to address that issue.”

Last school year, more than 35 high schools piloted the Transition to College Algebra class, which involves collaboration between high school and college math teachers and is based on research conducted at the University of Texas. At least 15 other high schools will join this school year. 

Fast is still in the process of gathering and comparing pre-class and post-class test results from the course’s first year. Preliminary outcomes look promising, she said.

“They’re understanding the math that they didn’t understand maybe when they took the pre-test,” Fast said. “And a lot of them are placing directly into college algebra.”

Porter said he looks forward to the state reaping enough data from the program to know with certainty whether it is effective.

“I want to know whether or not it’s working,” he said. “And if not, let’s do something else.”

For Fast, the course has an added benefit beyond helping students save time at college and avoid remediation costs.

Teenagers in the class have struggled with math and often lack confidence about their capacity for the subject. But teachers have told her the curriculum’s style — less lecturing, more class collaboration and more work tied to topics familiar to teens— seems to be helping students overcome that feeling.

“I love to see students as seniors go, ‘Huh. OK, this isn’t as hard as I thought it was,’” she said.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

I'm the creator of the environmental podcast Up From Dust. I write about how the world is transforming around us, from topsoil loss and invasive species to climate change. My goal is to explain why these stories matter to Kansas, and to report on the farmers, ranchers, scientists and other engaged people working to make Kansas more resilient. Email me at celia@kcur.org.
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