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New Mexico students still struggle in college

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SANTA FE – Just over half of the graduates from New Mexico high schools need to take remedial coursework – particularly in math and English – upon entering state colleges or universities, according to a new report compiled by the Legislative Finance Committee.

That demand for those courses, for which students receive no college credit but must take to qualify for enrollment in college-level classes, cost New Mexico about $22 million in 2013. The LFC report said 51 percent of the state’s high school graduates needed the remedial classes, which represented about 45 percent of all coursework taken by first-time freshmen in New Mexico colleges. The LFC compiled remediation data at 24 state colleges and universities.

The problem isn’t new, the LFC report said. But consistent demand for remedial coursework in the state’s higher education system over the past seven years suggests efforts to improve the state’s K-12 education system have failed to improve student preparedness when they get to college, the report said.

“In spite of recent statewide efforts to improve the college-readiness of high school students and postsecondary efforts to offer alternative approaches to developmental education, the remedial rate of recent high school graduates remained at 51 percent” in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the LFC report.

Some Republican lawmakers say the failure to reduce the need for remedial classes at the college level is evidence the state should change directions and embrace educational initiatives backed by Gov. Susana Martinez, including mandatory retention of third-grade students who struggle to read and merit-based pay increases only for top-performing teachers.

Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, a member of the House Education Committee, said the state must address education at the elementary level and make sure students are mastering reading, writing and math. “This is why we’re having the problems that we are,” she said.

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said resources used to pay for remedial coursework in colleges is better spent “in an accountable way to help our kids on the front end of their school life.”

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Sapien, D-Corrales, said the state must do a better job of holding schools accountable for the number of students they graduate who require remedial classes in college.

But Sapien said the governor’s proposed education initiatives are too shortsighted to make a dent on the college-level problem.

An average of 17 percent of students who take only one remedial course in college graduate within six years, compared with the 77 percent graduation rate for students who don’t require any remediation. An average of 5 percent of students who require two remedial classes graduate within six years.

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