On the surface, it may sound like an indictment of our public school system: 1 in 4 high school graduates end up taking a remedial class in reading, writing or math in college.

In Minnesota, the average is 28 percent; it has hovered around that mark for many years, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

But experts say there are plenty of reasons for that. And they're not always a reflection of what happened in high school.

Part of the problem, educators say, is the kind of test used to determine if students are truly "college ready."

Those placement tests, which are routine at many colleges and universities, are "not a great tool," said Laurel Watt, who teaches remedial reading and study skills at Inver Hills Community College. If students score below a certain cutoff, they're automatically assigned to a remedial (aka developmental ed) course, which won't count toward graduation.

Sometimes, Watt said, students who don't really need extra help end up failing those tests. Often, it's because they "have it in their head that it's not a high-stakes test," she said, and don't take it seriously.

"If we can get those students just to take it a second time, many of them get higher placement," she told a legislative committee in March, as part of a debate on reforming remedial education. But most students take it only once, and live with the consequences.

At the same time, many returning students need a refresher course simply because they've been out of school for several years, educators say. (At Minnesota's state colleges, nearly 50 percent of the remedial courses are in math.)

Watt, among others, says it's unfair to blame K-12 teachers for the learning gaps. The students who are best prepared for college, she notes, "don't go to different schools. They're reading two hours a day outside of the school day. That's the key."

And the struggling students? "They don't read for pleasure. They don't read outside of the school day," she said. Their teachers, she added, "did everything they could in those six hours."