High School Grads Not Prepared for College Courses
> 5/16/2007 11:31:07 AM

A disheartening study has revealed that, even when students take extra steps and courses supposedly designed to ready them for the college experience, a large portion are simply not proficient enough in core subjects to take on first-year college workloads. 

The study, working from the ACT college admissions test scores of more than one million American students who had also taken the SAT and graduated from high school the previous year, found that just over a quarter of the students who completed a minimum core curriculum were prepared for college-level work. After taking additional preparatory courses, the student's numbers increased, but the percentages labeled ready for college study were still low: 75% in math, 77% in English, and a dismal 38% in science. Why is this? The most obvious culprit is a lack of depth in respective curricula. Most states, while requiring one science course, do not specify or require courses in the individual sciences (chemistry, biology, etc.). This could mean either that policymakers place less value in science or that math curriculum has been downgraded to ensure that most students score passing grades. Either of those possibilities is regrettable. Statistics also indicate that the performance of many students declines during the last two years of high school, when, on average, they meet fewer of the readiness benchmarks appropriate to their grade levels. Do they feel that most of their serious work is done and that, simply by graduating, they have proven themselves ready for college and the working world? If so, they are increasingly mistaken.

Not surprisingly, college and high school educators disagree on how well-prepared these students are, with high school officials twice as likely to believe that state standards leave kids ready for college work. And the opinions of actual college professors clearly hold more weight in this matter. They opine that courses need to be more specific and promote an advanced knowledge of key subjects rather than  offering overviews of a broader swath of material. But high school teachers are not to blame for a trend that stretches throughout a student's academic career: a large percentage of high school teachers report spending valuable classtime in reteaching skills that should have been established by the eighth grade. Students may also be misled by positive assessments: even among those earning A's or B's, just over half were prepared for college courses in the same subjects.

Progress is achievable: for example, schools labeled "rigorous," where more students enrolled in Algebra II, registered considerably higher overall math scores. Additional Students can do the work when they need to, and there is no reason to downgrade their challenges in order to accomodate those with lower scores. If this means offering (or in certain schools, requiring) additional preparatory classes, then that is exactly what needs to be done. Giving students good grades and passing them into college unprepared is not fair to the students or the professors who will then be challenged to bring them up to par. Strangely, a majority of states do not even have course-level standards for different subjects. Even in those with abnormally high standards, levels of proficiency are low. We clearly need to specify how many courses are required in each particular subject as well as allowing college officials, rather than their peers in secondary education, to clarify what's needed for each student to compete in a college environment. We need to establish specific standards based on these assessments. Otherwise we will continue to produce graduating classes with ambitions that are seriously limited by the inefficiency of their high school educations.

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