Washington Foundation Provides $2.4 Million for Statewide Online College-Prep Curriculum


Fully 28 percent of students arrive on Montana college campuses needing remedial courses. In response, the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation made a $2.4 million gift to the Montana Digital Academy at UM to launch a statewide project designed to help students avoid remedial coursework when they attend college.

During the next three years, the Montana Digital Academy will test EdReady, a curriculum from the National Repository of Online Courses that was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Washington Foundation gift will allow Montana students to be the first in the nation to use the curriculum statewide. It is intended to help students boost their scores on commonly used placement exams so they can begin their postsecondary education without remedial help.

“Dennis and Phyllis Washington are pleased to complement the efforts of Bill and Melinda Gates to advance the first implementation of EdReady in the nation,” says Mike Halligan, executive director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation. “The Washingtons believe that Montana’s children must achieve at higher levels if they are to fulfill their own dreams and strengthen America. EdReady will provide students with the resources to accomplish their goals.”

The Washington Foundation gift comes after a successful pilot project at UM this past summer. In that project, 86 percent of participating students who needed math help increased their test scores and qualified to enroll in higher-level courses.
“Some students who enroll in college have a significant gap from the last time they took a math class in high school to the time they arrive on campus,” says Denise Juneau, state superintendent of public instruction. “EdReady is a promising tool that we can use to help get those students up to speed, keeping them out of remedial courses and on track for college graduation.”

The Montana Digital Academy, UM Department of Mathematical Sciences, and UM Office for Student Success collaborated on the EdReady pilot project, which involved sixty students who completed the math curriculum remotely. Additionally, forty-one students were able to avoid taking forty-nine remedial courses, totaling 151 credit hours that potentially would have cost those students about $30,000 in tuition and fees.

Robert Currie, executive director of the Montana Digital Academy, says a majority of the students were able to reach their target score with fewer than sixteen hours of focused use of EdReady, versus an entire semester for most remedial courses.

“This game-changing system will help our students enter college more prepared, while saving them money and helping them earn their degree on time,” Governor Steve Bullock says. “Montana is leading the nation when it comes to innovative approaches to improving college and career readiness.”

The Montana Digital Academy is part of the state’s K-12 system and works with school districts to expand educational offerings with a mix of core and elective courses, including online college-prep courses. Statewide field testing of EdReady began this spring, with results expected in 2015. Initially, the EdReady curriculum will focus on improving math placement scores, with English to be added in 2015.

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