Many high school graduates-mostly from public schools-fail the Northern Marianas College's placement tests, resulting in them being placed in remedial programs-classes that are below college-level, according to NMC president Sharon Y. Hart, Ph.D.
Hart said that NMC is concerned about the increasing number of students who are taking remedial education because she said this shows their un-readiness for college. She said, though, that this is not unique to NMC because other community colleges experience the same thing.
Hart believes, however, that “something has to be done immediately” to address this large number of failing high school students, and this is an area where the Public School System and the college can work together.
Hart said that NMC provided PSS the data that speaks about the percentages of students under each remedial class to better inform them of the issue. This is one important area, she said, that can be addressed by the ad-hoc committee recently formed by PSS and NMC boards.
Remedial education refers to classes taken by students that are below college-level or non-degree units. Students pay tuition and can use financial aid for remedial courses, but they do not receive college credits.
With the constant increase in the number of students in remedial courses, Hart said this does not conform with the purpose of NMC, which is to have all its student obtain a college degree.
Additionally, because many students have been taking remedial courses for some time now while using federal aid, this may end up exhausting the institution's federal monies that it could actually use in other areas for actual college students. She pointed out that remedial students do not receive any subsidy from the local budget received by the college.
“This is why we gave [PSS] the statistics we have because remedial is a major issue at the college now. We don't want to duplicate services and if there's a way on how we can get our students perform high in math and English, it will be a win-win situation for all of us,” Hart told Saipan Tribune.
An estimated 200 to 300 public high school graduates enter NMC every year.
To determine if students are eligible to enroll in college level courses, NMC conducts entrance examinations called placement tests, which measure the taker's knowledge in areas like English, math, and language arts. Results of these tests will dictate if a student can, for example, take the college English credit.
When asked about NMC's immediate plans to improve its data on remedial education, Hart said that NMC is considering some changes in the placement test. “I do know that our dean is working on that but ultimately, we're going to need some information and those info will get down to their K-12 program,” said Hart.
Based on NMC records, non-degree units for math from 2008-2011 show a low completion rate of 66.1 percent. Non-degree unit in English is also low at 75 percent.
Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ph.D., acknowledged that PSS has been informed about the college's concern. She said that meetings between the two institutions have started on how each can collaborate to resolve the issue.
Sablan described NMC's statistics as key to PSS, but pointed out the importance of doing an in-depth analysis of the data so that “we would know what it is that we need to articulate so our students, when they leave PSS and enter NMC, would be successful in the placement test.”
Before the end of every school year, PSS conducts an assessment test called Standard-Based Assessment to measure the knowledge gained by students in the school year. Sablan described the SBA results as high, satisfactory, and improving every year.
She is unsure why many high school students are failing NMC's placement tests, since they usually take it just a few months after graduating from high school.
“If the data is saying that 30 percent of our students is not passing the test, we need to do our job in doing an in-depth analysis so we will have better idea what are the factors [for their failure] and which area we need to improve,” she said.
A better way to address the problem is for PSS to be informed about the kind of tests to be conducted on students in order to better prepare them, Sablan said. Interviews with students could also be an important factor to determine why they are failing. She said the “gap” between when they graduate from high school and the time they take the placement test must also be known for better planning.
Common core standards
Sablan hinted that some factors may also affect the performance of students in taking the placement test, such as being nervous, not taking the test seriously, not totally understanding the importance of the test, and the long gap when they last attended school.
But Sablan is confident that with the implementation this school year of “common core state standards” in public schools, this would help address the concern. She described the common core state standards as rigorous instructions that are considered college-career standards.
“I do hope that now that we're implementing the common core state standards.we hope to see our students continually progress in math, English, and language arts as they go to college,” she told Saipan Tribune.