VERMILLION – The trend has been gradual improvement during the past decade. But as recently as 2011, once again less than 30 percent of South Dakota high school graduates who took the ACT met all four of the test’s college-readiness benchmarks.
That fact has the attention of Kathryn Johnson of Hill City. She is president for the state Board of Regents, whose members govern South Dakota’s public universities.
“Little wonder we have a remediation problem in college,” Johnson said Thursday, as the board received an annual report on students making the transition from high school to college. “This is really troubling.”
One of the charts in the report showed data from 2003 through 2011 for South Dakota students meeting the ACT’s college-readiness benchmarks in the categories of English, reading, mathematics and science.
Students performed best in English. In 2003 there were 71 percent who reached the benchmark. The percentages gradually climbed, reaching as high as 75 percent in 2007 and 2008. The past three years have been lower, dropping back to 72 percent in 2011.
Reading has hovered in the range of 55 to 60 percent through the nine-year span, with 58 percent in 2011. Mathematics has improved slightly, from 47 percent in 2003 to 52 percent in 2011. Science likewise came up, from 30 percent in 2003 to 37 percent in 2011.
The percentage of students reaching the benchmark in all four categories likewise has gone up, from 23 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2011.
According to regents official Paul Turman, 83 percent of all South Dakota high school students had an ACT score “of some kind.”
“With that, I find this area more troubling,” Johnson said.
Freshmen students enrolling in South Dakota’s state universities need to take remedial courses in English, math or both if they’re not ready for college.
In recent years more than one-fourth of the new students had to take at least one of the remedial courses, at their cost. That percentage was 28.4 for the fall 2011 class. Remedial courses don’t count toward graduation credit.
Regent Harvey Jewett of Aberdeen wondered whether South Dakota should pay for all high school juniors to take the ACT. He said that would allow them to use their senior year to build their knowledge in math and English so they would be more likely ready for college.
Regents official Sam Gingerich said South Dakota will be converting to a national testing system in spring 2015 in order to fulfill No Child Left Behind obligations under the waiver received by state government.
He said a pilot project is in consideration by the regents central office and the state Department of Education to assist some high school students whose recent ACT scores showed they weren’t ready for college.
Other data in the transition report show the state universities have been attracting a higher percentage of South Dakota high school graduates in recent years, but there has been a corresponding increase in freshman college students needing the remedial courses.
Regent Terry Baloun of Seneca said standards that were in place for the regents scholarship curriculum were softened somewhat in years past by the Legislature.
“The only way we’re going to fix this is to get that rigor back,” Baloun said. “That was the proper methodology.”