Reduce the Need for Post-Secondary Remedial
Education by Holding Public Secondary Schools Accountable


Public secondary schools should be held accountable for the basic skills of their graduates entering higher education.


Background
More than one-third of all students entering Texas colleges and universities each year cannot read, write or compute at post-secondary school standards. 1 To help these academically disadvantaged students succeed in post-secondary institutions, the state provides funding for remedial education to institutions of higher education (see Table 1). In the 1992-93 biennium, these institutions received $125 million for remedial education through the formula funding process. This money is appropriated to pay for such courses as basic English, algebra and reading comprehension.

The need for remedial education at the post-secondary level has increased in recent years, despite attempts to better prepare high school graduates. Texas students in secondary schools have been required to take examinations testing basic level skills as a graduation requirement since 1985. 2 Currently, students are tested in odd-numbered grades beginning in the third grade for reading, writing and mathematics (changes to fourth grade in Spring 1993). The testing instrument is the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS); in high school, st udents are required to pass the test to graduate.

However, passage of the TAAS test and a high school diploma do not ensure competence in basic skills taught in secondary schools. The TAAS test was not primarily developed to test s kills needed for advancement from high school. Rather, the TAAS was created to replace another test administered in high school: the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills (TEAMS) test. The TAAS was intended to be more difficult than the minimum sk ills test, but is not designed to test for mastery of secondary-level skills in writing, reading and mathematics.

Once the students are enrolled in college, they are required to take another test of basic skills: the Texas Academic Skills Program (TASP) T est, administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. State law requires students to pass all sections (reading, writing and math) of the TASP test before they receive an associate s degree or enroll in upper division courses beyond 60 semester credit hours of college course work. Students who fail any section of the test must enroll in remedial programs until they have passed all sections of the test.

The major impetus for the development of TASP was a report published in 1985 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, A Generation of Failure: The Case for Testing and Remediation in Texas Higher Education. The report recommended strategies for improving basic academic skills of students in higher education in Texas, such as providing additional funding for advisory and remedial assistance.

Testing students in high school and in college to assess competence in basic secondary school level skills suggests that there are two tracks for secondary school students: college-bound and non-co llege-bound. If the TAAS sufficiently tested students for competence in secondary-level skills in writing, reading and mathematics, there would be no need to test them again for these same skills once they entered college. The TAAS test, while not necessar ily a minimum skills test, does not test students for a standard acceptable to higher education institutions or many employers.

State requirements reinforce the dual tracking on the academic achievement records (transcripts) of high school graduates. There are three seals that may be placed on the academic achievement records: regular, advanced and advanced-with-honors. The advanced or advanced-with-honors designation is the implicit track for college-bound graduates. A more difficult and comprehensive curriculum is required for the advanced track, including requirements for science, computer science and foreign language that are not part of the regular curriculum requirements. Approximately 30 percent of students graduating from Texas high schools take the advanced or advanced-with-honors program. 3

It seems that the multiple curricula were established to designate high school students that are college-bound and provide them with advanced educational instruction to prepare them for the rigors of post-secondary education. Even though both the testing r equirement for graduation and the tracking were established in 1984, there was still a significant need to create the TASP in 1987 (first administered in 1990). If the goal of graduating competent, college -ready high school students had been met, there would have been little need to mandate the TASP for students already in college.

The parallel track of performance expectations and testing potentially limits opportunities for high school students who may later change their minds. In the current system, if high school students who were in the non-college-bound track decided several ye ars after graduation to go on to college, it is likely that they would be required to take remedial courses in post-secondary school, because they were inadequately prepared for advancement from their high school. Higher expectations and standards for all high school graduates would ensure that all students have access to a broad range of educational opportunities.

Table 1 Remedial Education for Post-Secondary Educational Institutions

1990-91 Biennium 1992-93 Biennium

Course-based remediation
Community and Junior Colleges $ 64,659,400 $ 98,041,796
General Academic Institutions 9,976,486 15,450,328
Non-course-based remediation 22,638,506 11,959,783

Total, Remedial Education $ 97,274,392 $ 125, 451,907

Source: Higher Education Coordinating Board Memorandum, November 13, 1992.

The standard school system should be a structure that demands that graduates of our elementary and secondary schools be academically competent students. Clearly, Texas elementary and secondary schools are not producing graduates that are academically prepared for post-secondary education. The system of parallel curricula perpetuate s the need for remedial courses beyond high school graduation. It could be argued that there would be no need for remedial education at the post-secondary level if students were adequately prepared in elementary and secondary schools. Despite attempts by l egislators and education policy makers to reform and improve the public school systems, only marginal improvements in student preparedness for post-secondary education are evident to date.

As more governmental agencies implement measures to be accountable in their provision of services and internal budgeting process, so are some educational institutions. The community college system has begun a program of guaranteeing its graduates of technical and health fields. Community colleges are able to provide a guarantee for these programs since the end product for these programs is delivered in the community college. That is, the graduates in these programs leave with specific skills that are useful for specific vocations. On the other hand, community college students on an academic track are likely to apply their community college academic credit to a four-year or upper-level two-year university. Since the end product for students on the academic track is not provided in the community colleges, the colleges do not guarantee these students.

The community college guarantee extends to the graduate and the employers of community college technical field graduates for one year after degree completion. If an employer proves that graduates cannot perform the techni cal requirements of the job for which they were hired, the community college will re-educate the students free of charge. Students have one year to return to the community college for the free remedial coursework.

The community college guarantee is appealing for its recognition that its students, the local taxpayers and employers of their graduates expect a quality product for their investment. Community colleges are working to make themselves more accountable for t he services they provide.

Elementary and secondary schools should be able to provide a similar guarantee. The guarantee would have to be somewhat different from the community college since secondary school graduates go a variety of places. The concept of guaranteeing a certain level of skills and being held accountable for delivery of that guarantee, regardless of whether the skills are used in a university or community college or workplace, should be applicable. (There is a separate recommendation in this area elsewhere in this report.)

Remedial education would be more appropriately provided to students as they need it: in elementary and secondary schools. This could be accomplished in a variety of ways, including year-round classes and self-paced learning schedules.


Recommendations
A. A test should be administered to all high school students before they graduate to guarantee that they have mastered basic secondary-level skills and are adequately prepared to advance, regardless of whether they use their skills in a higher education in stitution or in the workforce.

A task force comprised of representatives of public schools, higher education institutions and the workforce should be established to determine a testing instrument that assesses high school students competence in skills needed for advancement from high school. (At present, there is a committee on student learning that is charged with a similar task which might appropriately perform this funtion.)

The test would be administered to all high school students and should indicate t hat students have mastered basic secondary school skills at a level acceptable to higher education institutions and employers of high school graduates. Students who are currently on a non-college-bound track should have the same basic skills as a student on a college-bound track. The level of expectation should be raised for all graduates of high schools to ensure a statewide standard level of competence.

If the task force found it necessary to develop a new, perhaps harder test to ensure that all high school graduates were competent in basic reading, writing and math skills, it is possible that some high school students would take longer to graduate from high school, especially in the short term. However, the process of teaching students in elementary a nd secondary schools may, on its own, adapt to include more innovative forms, such as year-round schools and self-paced learning schedules during the time any new or revised test would be administered.

A new system could provide every graduate of high school the same access to educational opportunity and would reduce the need for remedial education at the post-secondary level. Texas students would ultimately be better served by a system that ensured some level of basic knowledge.

B. State funding for public elementary and secondary schools through the Foundation School Program should be reduced by the amount higher education spends on remedial education through the formula funding process in the previous biennium. The reduction could be achieved in several ways. First, it could be achieved through a bottom-line adjustment to the Foundation School Program similar to the adjustment made for administrative expenses in the 1992-93 appropriations bill. Second, it could be made as a reduction in the allotmen t of compensatory education fund since these funds are specifically allotted for the purpose of providing remediation for students. The Commissioner of Education should have the discretion to charge all or part of the reduction to individual school distric ts, based on the performance of the districts graduates on the Texas Academic Skills Program (TASP).

Since the need for remedial education in the post-secondary institutions is primarily a result of an incomplete or weak elementary and secondary school preparation, the public school structure would be held accountable for not producing competent graduates. The recommendation would result in a bottom-line reduction in funding for the Foundation School Program equal to the amount provided to higher educat ion institutions for remedial education in the previous biennium, as reported by the Higher Education Coordinating Board. For example, in fiscal 1994-95, the Foundation School Program would be reduced by $125 million. In this scenario, it is possible that the prospect of losing some portion of limited funding for public schools would encourage public institutions (post-secondary, elementary and secondary) to forge partnerships that would not otherwise exist.

Further, the Commissioner of Education should be given the discretion to charge all or part of the cost of post-secondary remediation to individual school districts. Guidelines for the chargeback should be developed by the Commissioner of Education in cooperation with the Commissioner of the Higher Ed ucation Coordinating Board to ensure that chargebacks are applied fairly and consistently. The Commissioner also would have the authority to adjust an individual district s prorated allotment if the district faced dire financial circumstances as a result of this recommendation.

High school graduates requiring remediation (as determined by results on the TASP test) are available on a per-school-district basis. If a school district continually produces ill-prepared graduates, the Commissioner should have the discretion to assign p roportional charges to the individual district. That is, if schools continue to graduate students that require remediation in their post-secondary institutions, the individual district could be held accountable for the poor perform ance of the students they graduate. This is intended to provide some structure of accountability for the secondary school system.

C. Higher education institutions should focus on providing post-secondary education and should not provide remedial education.

Institutions of higher education should focus on their appropriate mission of teaching post-secondary level courses to competent high school graduates, and they should phase out all remedial education programs. There will eventually be no need to re- teach secondary school level skills to college students.


Implications
Representatives of public school systems are likely to suggest that they cannot be held accountable for ensuring that all graduates have mastered basic secondary-level skills, since there are so many societal and familial influences that affect student performance.

The divergence in students backgrounds and influences is precisely the reason that all students should be held to one reasonable standard of competence. This would ensur e that all students have equal access to educational opportunities, regardless of where the students live, or how the students choose to use their skills.

Representatives of public schools are also likely to argue that this recommendation will exacerbate problems with school financing. However, the debate about school finance has not addressed the content or substance of what is taught in the schools. Therefore, it may be argued that regardless of the method of finance of public schools, as a matter of substance, the schools should impart a basic level of competence to their graduates.

Since the Commissioner of Education would have the ability to charge individual school districts for poor student preparation (and the resulting need for remedial help in the post-secondary institution), TEA would have to develop rules and regulations to i mplement the chargeback in an appropriate and fair manner.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board, in cooperation with higher education institutions and TEA, would have to develop a plan for phasing out remedial education in the post-secondary education institutions. The plan should take into account the higher standards required for high school graduation, which will eventually lead to college students that are adequate ly prepared to learn post-secondary level skills.


Fiscal Impact
Costs associated with the provision of remedial education in post-secondary institutions would be phased out, since the remedial education would be provided as the children need it: in elem entary and secondary schools. Assuming the need for post-secondary remedial education is the same in 1994-95 as it was in 1992-93, the continued cost associated with providing post-secondary remedial education needs would be $125 million. For the 1996-97 b iennium, a decline in the need for post-secondary remedial education by 20 percent from 1994-95 figures is assumed, associated with the improved performance of secondary school graduates. The 20 percent decline would result in the reduced cost of post-seco ndary remedial education, for a total of $100 million for the 1996-97 biennium. In the 1998-99 biennium, another 20 percent decline from 1995-96 levels for post-secondary remedial education associated with improved performance of secondary school graduates is assumed. This would result in a declining cost of $80 million. Eventually, higher education institutions will receive no funding for remediation, since the remediation would be appropriately provided in the secondary schools. The proposal recommends a path for reducing the state s burden for the provision of remedial education in post-secondary education.

Funding for the Foundation School Program (FSP) would be reduced by an amount equal to the remedial education funds appropriated to post-secondary schools in the previous biennium (as reported by the Higher Education Coordinating Board), unless all or part of the reduction was charged back to individual districts based upon their graduates performance on the TASP test. The chargeback would be driven b y amounts estimated above for the provision of post-secondary remedial education. Accordingly, in the 1994-95 biennium, the FSP would be charged $125 million, based on 1992-93 remedial education figures provided by the Higher Education Coordinating Board. For the 1996-97 biennium, the assumed level needed for post-secondary remedial education in the 1994-95 biennium would again yield a chargeback of $125 million. And, driving off the post-secondary estimates, $100 million would be charged back in the 1998-9 9 biennium.

Reduce FSP Net Savings to the
Fiscal Phase-out for Remedial General Revenue Change in
Year Remediation Education Fund 001 FTEs

1994 $ 0 $62,500,000 $62,500,000 0
1995 0 62,500,000 62,500,000 0
1996 12,500,000 62,500,000 75,000,000 0
1997 12,500,000 62,500,000 75,000,000 0
1998 22,500,000 50,000,000 72,500,000 0



Endnotes
1 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, TASP newsletter, October, 1992.
2 HB 72 required that high school students pass the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills (TEAMS) test before graduation. The TEAMS test was first administered in Fall 1985.
3 Texas Education Agency, Public Information Office, December 2, 1992.