By Superintendent Keith Beeman’s count, roughly 50 percent of the graduates from Billings high schools go on to some type of post-secondary education.
But not all of them are ready.
As some of those students prepare for their first day of class at one of the state’s colleges or universities, they find they need a refresher in basic English or math.
According to the state, 30 percent of recent Montana high school graduates had to take at least one remedial class once they got to a state college or university. Most were in math.
The fact that some incoming freshmen need a refresher in math isn’t that surprising to Gail Surwill, SD2’s curriculum director.
To graduate from a Montana high school, students need only two years of math. Those who finish the requirement as sophomores can finish high school never again thinking about how to use the foil method to multiply two binomials.
“Two years without math will leave you a little rusty,” Surwill said.
One metric that district officials use to gauge college preparedness is ACT college entrance exam scores.
Last year, SD2 high school students scored an average of 22.6 on the test, six-tenths of a point higher than Montana’s average of 22. The district’s average also is higher than the national average, which was 21. A perfect ACT score is 36.
“Our students who are looking toward college are well-prepared,” Beeman said.
Denise Juneau, the state superintendent of public instruction, wants to increase the number of high schoolers who take the ACT. Her office has introduced legislation that would authorize the state to pay for every high school junior in Montana to take the ACT.
She sees it as a way to remove one more roadblock for students as they consider going on to college. Montana students will need more than just a high school diploma if they’re going to succeed after graduation, she said.
“Our economy is changing, and our kids are competing with other kids globally,” she said.
School District 2 has worked to make a college-going attitude part of the school culture, which officials admit takes work. Only one-fourth of adults living in Montana have a college education.
“Some students know that college is the goal for them,” Beeman said. “Some students — equally capable — may not have that support at home. We still have the responsibility to prepare them.”
The district’s goal is to get all high school graduates ready for some type of post secondary education, whatever it may be.
“We try to stress post secondary education,” said Scott Anderson, SD2’s director of secondary education. “The high school diploma’s just part of the journey.”
Teachers have an obligation to talk about college and stress its importance to their students, Anderson said.
Important to district officials is helping students understand that post secondary education means more than just a four-year university.
The district uses a program with its high schoolers that runs them through a series of questions to help determine what kind of post secondary education is best.
The Billings Career Center, a vocational education hub for the district’s high schoolers, sends the majority of its graduates on to some type of additional schooling. Many go on to trade schools and technical academies.
Beeman said that, with local offerings like Montana State University Billings, Rocky Mountain College, MSUB’s College of Technology and SD2’s adult education program, there’s really no reason for a high school graduate not to seek more education.
Juneau calls two-year colleges the bridge to getting high school graduates trained with the right technical skills for a more advanced job market. They can also serve as a good springboard to a four-year college for students who choose to go on.
Regardless of the venue they choose, Beeman said, it’s important for high schools to produce graduates ready for the challenges that will face them when they leave high school.
“We need to prepare them, to help them jump right in,” Beeman said.