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South Dakota's college readiness test getting little use

Posted 5:56 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 5:57 p.m. Wednesday

Gov. Dennis Daugaard expressed frustration in his State of the State speech that few school districts are using a college readiness testing program that aims to help reduce the need for remedial classes. Some things to know about the problem, the program and why it matters:

THE PROBLEM

Last year in South Dakota, 30 percent of university students required at least one remedial English or math class, Daugaard said. South Dakota college freshmen took 599 remedial courses last year — costing them about half a million dollars in tuition, Daugaard said.

Colleges and students already have a problem with affordability. When students need to take a remedial class, they're spending money without making any progress toward a degree — the courses don't count for college credit.

Besides the cost, students who come to college needing remedial classes are less likely to graduate on time or at all, said Paul Turman, South Dakota Board of Regents' vice president for academic affairs.

THE ANTIDOTE

The Accuplacer College Placement Test is meant to reduce the need for college remedial classes. It got a funding boost four years ago as part of a state and national push to better prepare high school students for college.

Students with low ACT scores in math and English are required to take remedial classes when they reach college. But they can take the free Accuplacer test, which pinpoints course material they struggle with and creates custom curriculum to get them up to speed before they finish high school.

The student must take the course on top of other classes, either online or with a teacher in their district. At the end of the year the students take another test, and if they score high enough, they can go straight into credit-bearing college classes and avoid remedial courses and costs.

But the program hasn't caught on; less than one-third of the state's districts have offered it to students. Only 100 students statewide took the Accuplacer test last school year, Daugaard said.

WHY THE STRUGGLE?

School districts have lots of college prep course options, and Accuplacer may simply be being overlooked, said Becky Nelson, South Dakota Department of Education director of learning and instruction.

Her department is trying to spread the word on Accuplacer. Daugaard said he also pushed it in August at a convention with school administrators.

Nelson said "senioritis" also may be a problem getting students to take the course.

School districts decide whether to administer the courses as an online-only option, leaving it up to students to complete the work, or have teacher-directed study. Most schools choose the online approach.

MORE INFORMATION

For more information about South Dakota's college readiness coursework and how to enroll, visit doe.sd.gov/Assessment/accuplacer.aspx.

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