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Isle grads ill-prepared for college


More than a third of Hawaii public school graduates who enrolled in the University of Hawaii system following graduation last year needed remedial instruction in math or English, according to a new school-by-school report that helps paint a picture of the college- and career-readiness of the 2009 graduating class.

Overall, about half of 2009 public school grads enrolled in college that fall, about the same rate as the class of 2008, the report shows.

But individual high schools saw a wide range of college entrance rates.

Kalani High School topped the state, with 79 percent of its ’09 graduates enrolling in college.

Nanakuli High School had the lowest college-going rate, 21 percent, among noncharter high schools.

Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education compiled the "College and Career Readiness Indicators" data for the second consecutive year in an effort to better understand where students are going once they leave Hawaii high schools and how prepared they are for higher education or careers.

Tammi Chun, executive director of P-20, said the report shows there is a lot more work to do to improve the state’s college-going rate, but added new initiatives are under way to boost numbers.

There is also new work to improve student preparedness and decrease the number of graduates needing remedial courses.

"It’s not just about getting kids into college," Chun said. "It’s about being prepared to be successful. It’s not enough to just show up."

Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi also raised concerns about the percentage of students needing remedial instruction.

He added the figures suggest the DOE needs to spend more time focusing on making sure students have good educational foundations and less on new efforts to raise expectations, including toughening requirements for graduation.

"That’s the kind of thing that we should be focusing on — the basic skills that our kids need to do well in all subjects," Toguchi said, adding that proposed diploma requirements that would add Algebra II and more science courses might do more harm than good.

"They’re looking at things like raising expectations as a way to motivate kids. But we’re not really providing the kind of resources that we need to be able to help kids to do that," he said.

Toguchi also pointed out that college-going alone is not the best indicator of student success. Universities, too, need to do a better job of making sure kids progress — and graduate, he said.

About half of first-time freshmen at UH-Manoa graduate within six years, while, of those, just 15 percent graduate in four years, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics. After six years the university no longer keeps track.

Meanwhile, UH-Hilo’s six-year graduation rate is 32 percent, and Hawaii Pacific University’s is 41 percent.

The P-20 Partnerships, which released the college-going report, is led by the Good Beginnings Alliance — a nonprofit advocacy group for early childhood education — the state Department of Education and the University of Hawaii. Its mission is to strengthen the "education pipeline" from early childhood to college.

The state has set a goal of reaching a 62 percent college-going rate by 2018.

That would translate to nearly 1,500 more public high school seniors going on to college annually. (Some 11,451 public school students completed high school in 2009.)

The University of Hawaii remains the top choice for public high school graduates: About 40 percent of college-going students went to UH.

And of the 4,590 public school graduates statewide who enrolled in one of the 10 campuses in the UH system last fall, about 38 percent, or 1,725 students, took a remedial math course in their first semester, the P-20 report shows. About 35 percent, or 1,583 students, took a remedial English course.

In its previous report, P-20 looked only at remedial courses taken among community college students and found about half of all graduates who enrolled in one of UH’s two-year institutions needed remedial course work.

Chun said the percentage of students needing remedial instruction is even more startling when considering that many new public school grads opt not to enroll in a math or English course in their first semester at UH.

The P-20 report also shows:

» About 23 percent of public high school 2009 graduating seniors went on to a four-year college.

» About 27 percent went to a community college.

» 40 percent opted to attend one of the 10 campuses in the UH system.

According to P-20, Roosevelt High School had the second-highest college-going rate in the state, with 73 percent of students enrolling in college immediately. Thirty-four percent went to a four-year institution.

Ronald Nomura, vice principal at Roosevelt, said the school is working hard to create a "college-going culture."

"We want all of our students to think and plan a lot for college," said Nomura.

He added that the school continues to be concerned about the number of graduates needing remedial courses in college.

Among Roosevelt graduates who enrolled at a UH system campus immediately, about 35 percent took a remedial math class, and 20 percent needed remedial English.

Meanwhile, some principals have raised concerns about the P-20 report, saying the database used to collect school-by-school data on college enrollment is not accurate.

Darrel Galera, principal of Moanalua High School, said 81 percent of 2009 graduating seniors at the school reported they intended to go to college. The P-20 report, though, shows about 59 percent of the class actually enrolled in a two- or four-year institution.

Galera blames the difference in college-going rates on how P-20 collects its data.

P-20 calculates college-going rates with information from the National Student Clearinghouse, which gathers information from 91 percent of higher-education institutions in the United States.

In its report, P-20 estimates that because some institutions are not included in the clearinghouse data, the college-going rate for a school could be 6 percentage points higher in reality.

Galera said he believes the data is off by an even higher margin.

"Our concern is it’s being taken like this is the real data," Galera said. "We feel like we get bashed around enough."

Chun said the clearinghouse data is the best available information on student enrollment in college, and said only a handful of schools are missing from the count.

The only large institution in Hawaii not counted in the clearinghouse is Hawaii Pacific University. In fall 2009 HPU had 598 first-time, full-time freshmen, 179 of whom were Hawaii public school graduates.

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