ABOUT THE PROGRAM
The Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support program, or SAILS, is a combination of bridge and developmental math that started this year at Red Bank High School with 25 students.
Chattanooga State Community College offers the program in collaboration with the high school math teachers to teach a four-year math course for students who score below 19 on the ACT so they don't have to take remedial math.
Chattanooga State received a $117,000 grant from the Tennessee Board of Regents to expand the program to Grundy County, Rhea County, Marion County, Sequatchie County, South Pittsburg, Whitwell, Brainerd, Red Bank, East Ridge and Howard high schools.
Source: Chattanooga State Community College
TENNESSEE STUDENTS NEEDING REMEDIATION
In two-year colleges:
Black: 91 percent
Hispanic: 76 percent
White: 66 percent
Source: Complete College America
GRADUATION RATES BY CAMPUS
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (in six years): 40 percent
Cleveland State Community College (in three years): 12 percent
Chattanooga State Community College (in three years): 7 percent
Source: Complete College America
"Copy it down. Copy the whole equation," Debra Weiss tells student Daniel Munson as she stands over his shoulder.
"What color socks are you wearing today?" she asks him.
Apparently when Munson wears gray socks, he has an easier time with math equations -- at least that's the inside joke between them.
Munson is one of 25 students at Red Bank High School participating in a Chattanooga State Community College pilot program to keep students from having to take developmental math in college.
More than 70 percent of incoming freshmen at two-year colleges in Tennessee, including Chattanooga State, need at least one developmental class. About half of those students don't come back for their second year of school, officials said.
In fall 2010, more than 1,800 students paid about $1 million for remedial and developmental math courses at Chattanooga State. Those classes do not count toward graduation.
Remediation has gotten more attention nationwide because colleges are focusing more on graduating students, not just enrolling them, said Stan Jones. He is president of Complete College America, which aims to help states improve college graduation rates.
A Tennessee law that took effect in 2010 bases college and university funding on retention and graduation numbers.
Chattanooga State received a $117,000 grant in March from the Tennessee Board of Regents to expand the Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support program, or SAILS, to 10 area high schools this fall.
"It's a model for the country," said math department head John Squires. "Potentially, a student can get three semesters ahead."
The SAILS program combines a fourth-year high school math course for students who are not college-ready and a college-level developmental math class. It serves high school seniors who scored lower than 19 on the ACT.
The students use Chattanooga State software and must complete units to go to the next level. Meanwhile, the high school teacher is there to offer additional support.
Weiss, who has been teaching for 34 years, offered to pilot the program at Red Bank.
"I'm still a high school teacher, so I can make contact with the parents if [the students] are falling behind," she said. "But on the flip side, since this is a college-level course, I can also tell them, 'You're responsible for it.'"
She uses the material provided by Chattanooga State, and students do the same homework and take the same tests as they would in college, but she teaches it her way -- which involves songs and catchy phrases.
"X equals negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4ac all over 2a," Caitlin Williams sings, putting the quadratic equation to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel" in the middle of class.
Williams, 17, wants to study nursing at East Tennessee State University, but she scored just 15 in the math part of the ACT.
"I think [the SAILS class] is a great opportunity for me," she said. "Now I feel I'm more ready for college."
Right now, 22 of the 25 students in the pilot class have completed at least three units, said Weiss. She expects about 15 to complete the two-semester course by May 1. Then they can take a college math course in their spring semester next year, she said.
Jones, with Complete College America, said college takes too long for many students because they have to do remedial work.
"About 50 percent of high school students who start at a community college start with remedial classes," he said, and twice as many require math remediation than English.
But "a significant number of those [in remedial classes] will never graduate," in part because they get discouraged and frustrated, he said.
It's a good sign, he said, that more colleges are starting to work with high school students.
"The community college should be commended for the strategy, and it will be beneficial to them," he said.