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

March 06, 2014

MISSOULA – Fully 28 percent of students arrive on Montana college campuses needing remedial courses. In response, the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation has made a $2.4 million gift to the Montana Digital Academy at the University of Montana 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 post-secondary 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,” said 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 last 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,” said 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 of Student Success collaborated last summer on the EdReady pilot project, which involved 60 students who took the math curriculum remotely. The results showed that 86 percent of participants increased their test scores. Additionally, 41 students were able to avoid taking 49 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, said a majority of the students were able to reach their target score with less than 16 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,” Gov. Steve Bullock said. “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 will begin 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.

“This is a transformational gift for the University of Montana,” UM President Royce Engstrom said. “Because of the Washington Foundation’s continuing generosity and its focus on education, we will be the first state in the nation to offer the EdReady program to all secondary and post-secondary students, while also developing a national model that will guide future implementation across the country.”

Currie said EdReady will show high school students where they lack readiness and help them create improvement plans. Middle and high school teachers and administrators can use the tool to evaluate their programs and help place students in appropriate courses in preparation for their college careers.

After high school students take the initial assessment, they and their schools receive information on which institutions likely would enroll them without remedial coursework and which schools would require it. EdReady then recommends courses of study tailored to students’ personal needs based on the schools that they wish to attend.

“Montana is a national leader in testing this curriculum because we are committed to improving academic readiness, reducing time to degree and preserving college affordability,” said Clayton Christian, Montana commissioner of higher education. “The program is on the right track to help students succeed when they enroll at a college or university. Middle school and high school students will be able to establish their own EdReady accounts and improve their educational opportunities.”

If the Montana pilot project meets expectations, the Montana Digital Academy plans to take the program nationwide, said Roberta Evans, dean of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences.

For more information on EdReady, visit http://edready.org. For information on the Montana Digital Academy, visit http://montanadigitalacademy.org. Learn more about the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation at http://www.dpwfoundation.org and UM’s Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences at http://coehs.umt.edu.

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Contact: Robert Currie, Montana Digital Academy executive director, 406-243-5898, robert.currie@montanadigitalacademy.org; Mike Halligan, Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation executive director, 406-370-6551, mhalligan@washcorp.com.