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Editorial: New remediation bill for 11th-graders misdirected

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Legislation signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence will require high schools throughout Indiana do a better job of determining whether their students are ready to go to college.

The new law, House Enrolled Act 1005, was prompted in part by research that shows thousands of high school graduates, including those who graduated with academic honors, had to take basic remediation courses in math and English as college freshman.

Starting next school year, high schools will have to start identifying 11th-graders who are at risk of failing their senior-year graduation exams or need remedial classes before beginning college work for credit. The law also requires high schools to start providing extra help to those students in their senior year.

The intention of the law is admirable, but it’s misdirected in a couple of fundamental ways. First, as has been the case in the past several years, the legislature is asking schools to do something additional and specific without providing the financial resources to accomplish this.

That means already stretched budgets will have to be stretched even further. This situation cannot continue indefinitely before something snaps and essential school functions are compromised.

Second, the law compels high schools to test those students in their junior year to assess if they have the basic math and English skills to go on to college or into the workforce, and if not, to provide remedial help to them.

But the junior year of high school is awfully late in a student’s educational career to be looking at remediation. Problems like this can be handled more effectively if they are identified earlier.

Every year, more than 10,000 college freshman who’ve graduated from Indiana high schools are required to take remedial classes that give them no college credits but cost the same as a for-credit course, according to the Indiana Commission on Higher Education.

“The legislation establishes a backstop so that any need for remediation will be identified and can be addressed in high school,” said State Rep. Ed Clere, a New Albany Republican who authored the bill. “Too many students enter college unprepared and in need of remediation. Very few of those students graduate on time, and many never graduate at all.”

Students who need to take remedial classes in college run a higher risk of dropping out, in part because they can’t afford to keep going when their money, college loans, or scholarships run out.

We agree this is a problem, but addressing it in the junior year of high school is not the best place to start.

In fact, the legislature itself missed the opportunity to have a real impact in the matter. The state’s lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would have offered state funding for public preschool education. Doing so could have made a real difference in educational outcomes.

Research has shown that children who have an organized, curriculum-based preschool experience are more likely to succeed in school. They enter kindergarten better prepared to learn, and this advantage carries with them.

Hoosier lawmakers are right to look into this issue of the preparedness of our high school graduates, but we think the state should be making an investment in identifying the problems earlier on and then giving schools the resources they need to properly and effectively address the issues.

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