Ninth graders could receive more help for plans after graduation

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JEFFERSON CITY - A proposed bill could give ninth graders with below average test scores extra career counseling and remedial education to get them ready for entry-level jobs, or college. 

Jill Dudley works with students as central director at Sylvan Learning Center and said she thinks the bill would greatly help Missouri students.

"I think it's wonderful anytime a student can get any kind of extra help," Dudley said. "I think that there are a lot of students who don't perform well on standardize testing, and often times that's because of reading comprehension issues, or possibly issues with their mathematical foundational knowledge." 

Dudley is working with a ninth grader who is currently reading at a fifth grade level. He moved to a lot of different schools and sort of "slipped through the cracks," causing him to lose his motivation. Sylvan assessed him and created a personalized plan to help him with his reading schedule.

Rep. Kathryn Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) said she wants to make sure such help is required inside of the Missouri school system.

"Currently over thirty percent of our high school graduates need a developmental or remedial course during their freshman year in college," she said. "We need to ensure that students are not only graduating on time, but they're graduating ready."

Swan served on a higher education board for more than 10 years and said this always seemed to be a problem.

"We would realize that the remediation need was still there, she said. "That's my inspiration behind trying to do something to reduce the need for that, because it costs extra time, and it costs families extra money."

The bill would require that school districts develop a policy for identifying at risk ninth graders within their schools. These ninth graders will have to be provided with career counseling, and extra remedial care. The bill will also require school districts to create a policy for seventh graders and their parents, to create "personal plans of study"  based on the student's interest. These plans would be reviewed every year, and guide students from eighth grade through their high school years.

The Missouri Department of Higher Education released the high school graduates report which provides information on the remedial percentage of all Missouri high school students. According to the report at Hickman High School, 22 percent of freshman are in remediation. 

Within the bill, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will recognize school districts who already have some of these policies in place. Columbia Public School District currently has many resources for students who need remedial help.

"We already talk to our students about college and career readiness, where they need to be, what they should be looking at, be thinking about what they need to do," Community Relations Director Michelle Baumstark said. "We want all of students to come out prepared for whatever path they choose to take."

Dudley said, although she enjoys her job, she hopes the bill will help end the need for extra tutoring. 

"This may help parents realize their student has an issue sooner than they normally have," Dudley said. "It could boost their confidence and motivation to maybe want to go to college, and do well."

She said she encourages parents to find out if their student has an issue sooner, rather than later.

"The sooner you get the issue fixed, the more confident they'll be and the more successful they'll be," Dudley said. 

The bill, approved in the House this week, was added to SB 172 Thursday morning and should be on the House calendar next week. 

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to fix the misspelling of "Girardeau."]