Georgia Students Should ‘Move On When Ready’

(Dean Alford’s commentary is adapted from a panel presentation at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s January 25 Leadership Breakfast titled, “Breaking Down Barriers to High Quality Education in Georgia.”  Alford’s entire speech can be viewed on the Foundation’s YouTube site.)

Dean Alford, Member, University System Board of Regents (Photo by Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine)

According to Complete College America, an organization funded by the Gates Foundation, of 100 Georgia ninth graders entering the ninth grade, 54 graduate. Twenty-seven go to our University System. Fourteen come back their sophomore year and six graduate.  Fourteen go to the Technical College System or two-year schools. Seven come back for their second year and three graduate.

Let me give you some amazing facts. Those students who entered their freshman year – whether it be the University System or the Technical College System – who did not come back cost the state last year $254 million. What it tells us, of course, is that when we analyze why that is the case, it appears in large part because too many of them are coming and they are not prepared.

About a third of incoming freshmen to the University System had to take remedial courses. About 42 percent in the Technical College System had to take remedial courses. A student who takes three remedial classes has a 3 percent graduation rate in our post-secondary system.

We have too many children who are coming out of K-12 who think they’re ready and, to their great surprise when they enter the University System or the Technical College System and they take the COMPASS test, they’re told, “Now you have to take two remedial classes.”

They’re in shock. Their parents are in shock. They spend a year in our system and no college credit. No wonder they don’t ever complete.

One of the things that we really feel strongly about is that whatever the assessment that the Technical College and the University System is going to use to determine readiness, that mechanism should be used as early as the 10th grade so that students and parents know where their children are, so that they can begin to talk about, “Where do we go from here?”

If a student is ready in the 10th grade to begin to do post-secondary, let’s do that. Let’s engage them either in classes in the University System or technical colleges. There is an array of things out there and an array of doing that. But we must begin to do that.

But on the other hand, if they’re not, remediation should be the responsibility of K-12. They need to know where they are. The problem is once they graduate, it’s too late to send them back. I’ve had very few high schools say; we’ll take them back, retrain them and send them back to you. That’s not going to happen. The Technical College System does have that policy. If you hire one of its graduates and they are not prepared, we’ll retrain them at no cost. That’s a guarantee.

The concept of “Move On When Ready” means we should be assessing every child about where they are and move them at a rate that allows them to move quicker. We do know this: Those students who take post-secondary classes while they are in high school don’t need remediation, have a higher graduation rate and it saves a lot of money. There has to be truly this blending, or tearing down of those walls that we have built up for whatever reason.

We have three unique systems. When you analyze the costs per result, the cost per student hour or whatever, you come up with some very interesting things about who’s very efficient and who’s not.

Here’s what’s unique. Our K-12 system has assigned areas but no choice. Our University System has no assigned areas, so they can go wherever they want to go, I think we are about to try to pull some of that back in, but students have choice. The Technical College Systems have assigned areas and choice. I’ll let you guess which one on a per-dollar basis is the most economical and, in many ways, effective relative to those dollars and the reason why it’s about systematic approaches.

We had over 70 high schools last year where over 50 percent of the ninth graders did not come back for 10th grade. We have some amazing stuff that we really have to get our hands around and that only occurs when we recognize every individual child is important. Educators should know where they are. And guess who else has a right to know where they are? When we’ve been talking about Move On When Ready Version Two, it is fundamentally based on that premise that people need to know where their children really are.

I know there is a lot of concern about testing and I think there has to be. But at the end of the day, what is the common assessment through the enterprise? That common assessment then allows us all to know, and then allows students to basically, if they have to, remediate. But remediate in K-12.

That remediation should not be based on seat time. The last thing I’ll tell you about Move On When Ready is, in our opinion, it should be based on competency, not based on how much time you sit in your seat. If you have a child, any children, particularly grandchildren, today they all play video games. What they know in those video games is at what level they are. They know that they can’t go to the next level until they are competent at the current level. Now that is not based on how long they sit and play the game. It is based on whether or not they conquer each level.

To me, the transformation that is the opportunity when we talk about remediation, when we talk about Move On When Ready, is that we give children the opportunity to move based on their ability to become competent in subject areas so that they really know they are ready to move on.

Right now there is a task force within the University System and the technical colleges to look at remediation and doing away with seat time and to allow students to remediate on a pace that allows them to advance based on competency not on course completion.

We have 9 million Georgians. We have 1.8 million Georgians that do not have a high school or GED education. Some of our counties have over 35 percent of their adult populations that are in that role. Guess what? Those communities aren’t going to have economic development.

That being said, only about 30 percent of our population has some kind of post-secondary education or certification. The reality of that is – and the governor has made it very clear with Complete College Georgia – that number needs to go closer to 60 percent. It will take serious change in the way we go about education. But I will say this: If we do not get there we will not be a player in the world economy.

(Dean Alford serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.  He was previously chairman of the Technical College System of Georgia board and a member of the State Board of Education.  Alford is President of Allied Energy Services.)

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