SPEARFISH — For at least the past five years, more than one quarter of new freshmen each fall at South Dakota's public universities needed to pay extra and pass a non-credit course in remedial English or remedial mathematics, or both.
The situation repeatedly raised questions about quality at South Dakota's K-12 public schools.
Now the state Education Department and the state Board of Regents, whose members govern the public universities, hope a new strategy can cure the academic shortcomings while students are still in high school.
Public schools will be required to use the new Common Core state standards developed through the National Governors Association. The state Board of Education adopted Common Core in 2010 during the last year of then-Gov. Mike Rounds' administration.
The schools also must replace the Dakota STEP student-achievement tests that were used the past decade in grades 3-8 and grade 11 for assessing students' performances under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
They will switch this school year to the national Smarter Balanced assessments that are based on Common Core standards.
The regents received presentations Wednesday on the continued high percentages of remedial students enrolling in the state universities and on the conversion to Common Core and Smarter Balanced.
Robert Stein, a regional advisor for the national consortium of states involved in the change to the Smarter Balanced assessments, told the regents that “higher standards, more rigorous standards” under Common Core will reduce the nearly 30 percent remediation need.
Stein called Smarter Balanced an early warning system. “In essence this will become another measure of college readiness for placement in math and science,” he said.
More than 27 percent of the high school graduates who enrolled in South Dakota's public universities in fall 2012 needed a remedial course in math or English or both, according to data presented Wednesday to the regents.
That was down from the 28.4 percent of 2011 and was the lowest rate in the past five years, nudging aside the 27.9 percent of 2008.
Bringing Common Core into South Dakota's schools is already underway and opposition is spreading. A group of parents opposed to Common Core received 30 minutes at the state Board of Education meeting last month to make statements and ask questions.
In recent months, the state department began offering remedial courses online for high school students at prices of $125 to $175.
The Legislature earmarked $120,000 to reimburse families of students who complete the courses and perform well enough on tests to avoid being placed in remedial classes at the universities.The online courses are for students whose ACT sub-scores are below 18 in English, below 20 in math and below 22 in reading.