Vitally important state report almost three years late

Nathan-on-Education-new“I think it is vitally important to have the ‘Getting Prepared Report’ updated in 2014, given the push we did this legislative session to advance early college opportunities for all secondary students.” That’s what Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul and chair of the Minnesota House K-12 Education Policy Committee, told me this week.

State law requires that this report be completed and shared annually with legislators. But despite this law, the report was last issued in January 2011, almost three years ago. It’s online at http://bit.ly/1bPf6uk.

As with state and federal health care applications, it appears that unanticipated computer and data problems are causing big delays.

Getting Prepared shows what number and percentage of graduates from each Minnesota public high school had to take developmental, aka remedial or high-school level, courses when they entered a Minnesota public college or university. It’s valuable for legislators to know whether the state and individual schools are making progress. (A recent report on kindergarten readiness shows progress in that field.)

Because the report shows how many graduates at each high school took remedial courses in reading, writing and math, high school educators can use Getting Prepared to identify and then work on improving student preparation in those subjects. Getting Prepared also helps students and families see how well prepared graduates are for public higher education.

Finally, the report is important because of 2013 changes in state law. High school students are no longer required to pass reading, writing or math tests in order to graduate. Instead, students will be encouraged to take various tests and assessments that help them understand where they are compared to expectations of colleges and employers.

Taking remedial courses costs families and taxpayers millions of dollars. Our goal should be to reduce the number of students entering public colleges and universities who take these courses.

Minnesota Statute 13.32, subdivision 6(b) is clear. It reads in part: “Public postsecondary systems annually shall provide summary data to the Department of Education indicating the extent and content of the remedial instruction received in each system during the prior academic year by, and the results of assessment testing and the academic performance of, students who graduated from a Minnesota school district within two years before receiving the remedial instruction. The department shall evaluate the data and annually report its findings to the education committees of the legislature.”

I’ve been asking for this report since fall of 2012. In March 2013, I was told that the responsibility to produce the report had been shifted from the two public higher education systems, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State College and University system, aka MnSCU, to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Since then, I’ve talked with Office of Higher Education officials a number of times. Initially the Office of Higher Education said data would be available in June. That later was changed to July and then “the fall.”

I checked again with the Office of Higher Education and Department of Education officials this week. The report still is not done.

State officials have held several meetings around Minnesota this month to encourage high school and college collaboration, leading to better-prepared students. Having an updated Getting Prepared report would have been helpful.

Sandy Connolly, communications  director  at  the  Office of Higher Education, explained the office’s analysis of data has produced “some inconsistencies … with regard to the percentage of students taking developmental education at MnSCU.” So officials are “checking the individual records of thousands of students, a step OHE believes is necessary for the integrity of the final product.”

Perhaps it’s time to go back to the old system, where the University of Minnesota and MnSCU system complete the report, until the inconsistencies can be resolved. More people may also be needed to help finish the report.

The Office of Higher Education says the new report will include more details and, for the first time, data from Minnesota students attending private as well as public institutions. That could be valuable.

But almost three years have elapsed since this report was produced. The law (wisely) says the Getting Prepared report is supposed to be done each year. It’s time to follow the law.
Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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