Most Alaska high school grads unprepared for UA math and English

A new University of Alaska report finds that the majority of Alaska high school graduates attending UA schools are not prepared for entry-level courses in math and English.

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Research done by UAA’s Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) shows that from 2006 through 2015 just under 61 percent of college freshmen coming from Alaska’s 37 largest high schools required some amount of remedial course work once they got into the UA system.

The study also pulls out a sub-group of five schools with the highest percentages of graduates requiring remedial course work, and finds that those graduates had a cumulative grade point average of 3.16, or an A-, while in high school.

At 78 percent, the school with the highest proportion of graduates requiring remedial courses during the study period was the Galena Interior Learning Academy, a boarding school that serves around 225 students.

Galena City School District Superintendent Chris Reitan sees the bright side of just being included in the study in the first place, since a high school had to produce more than 10 college-bound graduates in 2015 in order to be evaluated.

“Of course we can do a better job; to indicate that we don’t want to do a better job or see that as one of our missions would be erroneous and irresponsible,” Reitan said. “But I also think you have to be cognizant enough to recognize that if they did not come to us, many of these kids would not even be attempting a university class – and that’s worth celebrating.”

Besides Galena’s boarding school, the ANSEP study found the highest rates of remedial course work among graduates of the state-run Mount Edgecumbe boarding school in Sitka, Juneau-Douglas High School, and the public high schools in Kodiak and Ketchikan.

Dr. Herb Schroeder with ANSEP agrees that the data does not point at any sort of urban-rural divide in terms of college readiness.

“There are clearly systemic issues that reach down throughout the entire K-12 system. And we are not interested at pointing any fingers,” Schoreder said. “We want to raise awareness about the issue, and we want to work to align the curriculum between K-12 and the University.”

On the issue of course alignment, critics and supporters of the ANSEP study seem to be in agreement.

From the high school’s perspective, Superintendent Reitan said alignment means having a single target to aim for when preparing students for college.

“When you get at the university level, there is academic freedom,” Reitan said. “So you when you get into English 111, you could have ten different instructors with ten different objectives. It’s tough to align our instruction with the university’s if there are no set standards that everybody is following. So we are having a dialogue along those lines.”

The heads of the state’s K-12 public school system and the University of Alaska system have begun work on aligning curriculum, and are coming up with long term goals on how to make Alaska high school graduates more prepared for college.