Joe Nathan Column: ‘Vitally important’ state report almost 3 years late

Joe Nathan column – “I think it is vitally important to have the ‘Getting Prepared Report’ updated in 2014, given the push we did this legislative session to advance early college opportunities for all secondary students.” That’s what Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul and chair of the Minnesota House K-12 Education Policy Committee, told me this week.

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

State law requires that this report be completed and shared annually with legislators. But despite this law, the report was last issued in January 2011 (online as a PDF), almost three years ago.

As with state and federal health care applications, it appears that unanticipated computer and data problems are causing big delays.

Getting Prepared shows what number and percentage of graduates from each Minnesota public high school had to take developmental, aka remedial or high-school level, courses when they entered a Minnesota public college or university. It’s valuable for legislators to know whether the state and individual schools are making progress. (A recent report on kindergarten readiness shows  progress in that field.)

Because the report shows how many graduates at each high school took remedial courses in reading, writing and math, high school educators can use Getting Prepared to identify and then work on improving student preparation in those subjects. Getting Prepared also helps students and families see how well prepared graduates are for public higher education.

Finally, the report is important because of 2013 changes in state law. High school students are no longer required to pass reading, writing or math tests in order to graduate. Instead, students will be encouraged to take various tests and assessments that help them understand where they are compared to expectations of colleges and employers.

Taking remedial courses costs families and taxpayers millions of dollars. Our goal should be to reduce the number of students entering public colleges and universities who take these courses.

Minnesota Statute 13.32, subdivision 6(b) is clear. It reads in part: “Public postsecondary systems annually shall provide summary data to the Department of Education indicating the extent and content of the remedial instruction received in each system during the prior academic year by, and the results of assessment testing and the academic performance of, students who graduated from a Minnesota school district within two years before receiving the remedial instruction. The department shall evaluate the data and annually report its findings to the education committees of the legislature.”

I’ve been asking for this report since fall of 2012. In March 2013, I was told that the responsibility to produce the report had been shifted from the two public higher education systems, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State College and University system, aka MnSCU, to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Since then, I’ve talked with Office of Higher Education officials a number of times. Initially the Office of Higher Education said data would be available in June. That later was changed to July and then “the fall.”

I checked again with the Office of Higher Education and Department of Education officials this week. The report still is not done.

State officials have held several meetings around Minnesota this month to encourage high school and college collaboration, leading to better-prepared students. Having an updated Getting Prepared report would have been helpful.

Sandy Connolly, communications director at the Office of Higher Education, explained the office’s analysis of data has produced “some inconsistencies … with regard to the percentage of students taking developmental education at MnSCU.” So officials are “checking the individual records of thousands of students, a step OHE believes is necessary for the integrity of the final product.”

Perhaps it’s time to go back to the old system, where the University of Minnesota and MnSCU system complete the report, until the inconsistencies can be resolved. More people may also be needed to help finish the report.

The Office of Higher Education says the new report will include more details and, for the first time, data from Minnesota students attending private as well as public institutions. That could be valuable.

But almost three years have elapsed since this report was produced. The law (wisely) says the Getting Prepared report is supposed to be done each year. It’s time to follow the law.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome,

  • Karen Seashore

    I agree with Dr. Nathan that this is an important report whose content is important for both schools and institutions of higher education — I look forward to the data on an annual (or at least bi-annual) basis.

  • Jerry Von Korff

    I agree that it’s important to monitor the level of preparation of high school graduates. What is the definition of remedial instruction under the law. Is it instruction necessary to bring the students to a pre-defined uniform level of performance for all students, regardless of admitting institution? Or, is it instruction necessary to bring students to the level that brings them to the point where they are eligible for admission to the institution? Is it partly a measure of state universities pumping up their enrollment revenues by admitting students who are not prepared to succeed at the university, and partly a measure of deficiencies in secondary school education?

    NPR did a series on students who came to college unprepared; it was really interesting. Some of the students admitted that they had sleepwalked through high school, believing that they could be admitted to a college without studying. Part of the problem, I think, is that we must be more intentional, with programs like AVID, or as some call them, avidized high schools, to get students on track in the early secondary grades.

  • Mark Nichols

    The failure of our education leaders to comply with the reporting requirements is disappointing, to say the least. I urge all citizens to communicate their expectations to their respective representatives, and accept nothing less than a well-developed strategy to ensure that the immediate failure to report is addressed no later than 2/1/14, and a system is designed to provide credible assurance that future deadlines will be met, without exception.

    If our educational system is truly the engine of our state’s competitive position (as I and many others believe) , then meaningful reporting – combined with adjustment to action plans, based on accurate and timely data – ought to be a central feature of our strategy.

    Thank you Joe Nathan, for reporting important information.

  • Mary Sherry

    This eye-popping report should be read by all who care about quality education: voters, educators, education policy makers, parents, and–yes, even students! It is a reality check that every community needs. And, as Nathan points out, the Minnesota Office of Education should not drag its heels. It should follow the law and produce it each year.

    (Mary Sherry is a Burnsville City Council Member)

  • John Webster

    I hope that this column lights a fire under the footdraggers who don’t want to release information that would make Minnesota education look bad. The Minneapolis Star Tribune should investigate this matter and bring it to widespread public attention. Not likely, as it doesn’t square with their preferred narrative that the Higher Ed system is For The Children.

    I only disagree with one sentence in this column: “Our goal should be to reduce the number of students entering public colleges and universities who take these courses.” No – our goal should be to ELIMINATE all remedial courses for students who aren’t academically qualified and who don’t belong in any true college in the first place.

  • Scott R Sands

    Our young people, who are all eager to learn, spend their most potent learning hours in schools and so little comes of it. We look the other way because schools are a cheap way to keep them busy while we do what we will with those hours. I hope someday we realize this is the great tragedy of our age.
    At one time I was strongly opposed to standardized tests but I now see we need more then the subjective assessment of educators. I wish we would use these and other assessment tools to further the education of our students rather than holding educators accountable or categorizing learners.

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