As graduation day approaches for Johnson County schools, seniors are putting the finishing touches on their high school careers.

The work they’ve put in during the past four years has laid the foundation for success in the colleges they will attend in the fall. And according to data released by the state, local students are better prepared than ever before.

A new report by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education shows that fewer and fewer students from Johnson County schools are in need of remediation courses to catch up to college-level classes. Every county school showed improvement in college readiness than in previous years, according to the most recent data released. Of the local students attending an Indiana public college, 84 percent needed no remediation.

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To get to this point, local schools have emphasized college readiness through an ambitious and encompassing curriculum, increased opportunities for advanced level classes and opportunities for dual credit.

All of that success starts at the classroom level, said Leah Wooldridge, principal at Franklin Community High School.

“Our teachers are with the students on a daily basis. The way they instruct our students and make them applicable to the real world, that’s the best preparation that the students can get,” she said.

College readiness data is compiled annually by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The reporting is part of a larger effort to ensure Hoosier students have a challenging curriculum in high school that will make for an easier transition to post-secondary education.

Students who finish high school academically prepared are more likely to complete college, graduate on time and spend less on their degrees, said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education.

The most recent reports focus on data from the 2015 graduating class. In Johnson County, 16 percent of students needed remediation in college. Five years ago, 35 percent of students needed additional help.

More students in Johnson County are earning Core 40 diplomas, the state-approved series of course requirements that serve as the baseline of what students should know as they enter college. The focus is on language, math, science and social studies, with additional weight given to electives such as art and foreign language, and health classes.

A greater percentage of students are taking Advanced Placement courses, which presented more challenging and sophisticated information closely aligned to college classes.

Dual-credit courses also have become widely popular at all Johnson County schools. Students can take courses that count toward their high school diploma, while also counting toward credit in college.

“It’s in these courses they are subjected to college rigor and a college curriculum,” said Todd Garrison, principal at Greenwood Community High School. “Beginning next year, we aspire to create a program allowing all students an opportunity to earn a college dual credit early in their high school experience.”

In efforts to better-prepare college-bound students, Greenwood has increased digital experiences, assignments that require a higher depth of knowledge and collaborative projects that are more common in college classrooms.

A combination of those strategies along with more rigorous curriculum has shown results. In 2015, 90 percent of students needed no remediation upon reaching college, which had increased from 71 percent of 2011 graduates.

“This confirms our strategies and objectives are effective, but we will always continue to refine our work as we continue working with our partners in higher education,” Garrison said.

Changes to the curriculum has made a big impact in graduating students who are ready for what college entails. But educators have also heard the complaints that too many Indiana students lack the “soft skills” needed to handle college courses and beyond.

Franklin uses the term “college career ready” to focus on skills such as organization and working together as a team.

“When we go out in the community and talk to employers, that’s one of the biggest things we hear is that students haven’t mastered those skills: the ability to collaborate with each other, to be on time, time management,” Wooldridge said. “Especially today, they’re so used to texting things rather than having conversations with people, so we’ve had a real focus on that as well.”

Emphasis has been placed throughout the school on connecting the concepts and calculations learned in the classroom to problems that exist around them. For example, Advanced Placement students in physics and calculus will take part in a trip this spring to Kings Island amusement park near Cincinnati.

While the experience is a chance to have fun on rollercoasters and rides, the students also have to apply what they’ve spent the year learning to the mechanics of the park, determining velocity, gravitation and change in motion.

Time management is a major focus at Franklin, Wooldridge said. For most of their lives up to this point, students have had their schedules regimented and laid out for them.

Starting in college, that will no longer be the case. More group projects and long-term assignments have forced them to take more responsibility for how they use their time, Wooldridge said.

“They’re leaving our walls, where they’ve had a structured life for the most part. They had to get up at a certain time, school started at a certain time, they were bound by bells during the day, which told them where to go next,” she said. “When they get to college or start a career, they’re not going to have that. So they need that discipline to be able to manage their time and make the right decisions.”

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.