Arkansas high schools received good news from a couple of sources in December.
A national survey reported that new high school graduation requirements in Arkansas will be among the most stringent in the country. Also, the state Higher Education Department reported that the remediation rate for college freshmen this year is the lowest since it began keeping records in 1990.
According to Achieve Inc., a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., Arkansas will be one of only three states that require students to take college preparatory courses as the standard curriculum.
Students can opt out of the college prep courses only if their parents allow them to do so.
Also, Arkansas is one of only five states that will require four rigorous math courses for graduation. Arkansas is one of only six states requiring students to complete four grade-level English courses in order to graduate.
The higher standards in the college preparatory curriculum, known as Smart Core, will be required of today's eighth-grade students who will be the class of 2009.
Achieve Inc. noted that Smart Core requires students to take challenging courses in math and English. Other states allow students only the option of taking four math courses, but Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and West Virginia require them to take the more challenging math classes.
Besides Arkansas, only Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia will require four English classes at grade level for graduation.
Only Arkansas, Indiana and Texas will require high school students to take a college preparatory curriculum in order to get a diploma.
For years the Legislature has steadily been raising education standards, and the improved college remediation rates are the concrete results of those efforts. College freshmen who score poorly on the ACT, a widely used college admission exam, must take remedial classes to bring their academics up to college levels.
Since 1996, the percentage of Arkansas freshmen having to take remedial college classes has stagnated at 49 or 50 percent. This school year, the rate was 47 percent, down from 50 percent the previous year.
Educators say that ACT scores have been gradually improving because more high school students are taking college preparatory classes. One reason is that students must take the college prep curriculum to qualify for Academic Challenge Scholarships. Scores should continue to improve as the college prep curriculum becomes mandatory for the class of 2009.
A Higher Education Department official said that the improvement in remedial education rates is good news because the cost to Arkansas taxpayers of providing the classes is $39 million a year. Also, it is costly for freshmen because they don't receive college credits for remedial courses. The official noted that students are more likely to graduate if they enter college without having to take remedial classes.