Are Our Students Really That Unprepared for College?

 In Seriously?

Much attention has been given to the following startling statistic: 60% of Americans who graduate from High School are unprepared for college. For someone in my line of work, this is startling indeed. After all, the question begs to be asked. What are those High School teachers doing?  60% is a lot of kids.

But in fact how did they arrive at this statistic? Well, there isn’t a simple answer to that, but one factor that was relied on heavily was the following: approximately 60% of students heading to college tested into remedial English or Math courses. Now, when a college student has to take remedial English, they are required to take a college course that they do not receive credit for because these remedial courses are not credit bearing.

But is it really true that 60 % of our kids are that unprepared? Well, maybe not. I’d be the first person to tell you that we can always do better preparing our students for their future, but before we all jump on this train, it’s important to consider a few things.

First of all, I’d like to know how colleges measure student readiness for their incoming students? I did a little research and discovered that many use the Accuplacer. This is problematic for a few reasons. First of all, for many years, the accuplacer was not aligned with the NYS Learning standards. This resulted in a few anomalies I’d like to share.

We had noticed with dismay that many of our graduates were leaving us and returning to tell us they went to a local college and tested into remedial English. We felt this a personal affront to our dignity, especially when we considered that several of these students received a score above a 90% on the English Regents which should indicate competence. One of my former students received a 98 on the Regents and was registered in AP Literature where she maintained a consistent B+ to A- average. Yet, her college told her she needed remediation. I urged her to appeal this decision, which she did. The college rather abruptly recanted and took her out of the class. Good thing, because a few weeks later she got her AP score back and learned she got a 3, a qualifying score in most colleges. This was not the only incidence of this, either.

That year, several more students returned to us with the same story. At my suggestion, several appealed and were quickly taken out. So, this made me a little suspicious. What was going on?

Well, a few things are possible. First of all, the instrument of measurement was not aligned with the instruction. Second of all, the Accuplacer may not be a bad test, but as far as I can tell, colleges are inconsistent in what they place as the cut off. And thirdly, I hate to be a Conspiracy Theorist, but it does occur to me that colleges make money when students go into remediation. Why were they so quick to drop their decision when challenged? It would seem that they did not have confidence in their own means of measurement. And they shouldn’t. But what about all those kids who didn’t appeal? They make up that 60%….should they?

I think colleges are seeing the natural result of a society in which more students are encouraged to attend college than ever before. When I was in High School, there were three tracks: the college bound (maybe 35-40% of the class), those headed for the working world (probably 40%) and those headed for the Military. So, basically in the 80’s colleges mostly saw the top of the class.

But now, they are seeing the middle, the C students, if you will. Colleges are shocked at what they consider the “lack of preparation,” and this has lead to possibly unfair accusations of incompetence aimed at Public school teachers. We are sending you our C students now. You are taking their money, Colleges, so maybe you need to up your game a bit, too.

It has also been stated that too many kids drop out of college and this is undeniable. But it does not necessarily follow that they drop our because of lack of academic preparedness. For many, it is a question of social and emotional preparation. Many fall prey to drugs and alcohol. And what about the students who drop out because they can’t afford the ridiculously exorbitant cost of a college education in America? I’d like to see the numbers on that….

As previously stated, I feel we can always do better in preparing students for the changing world they will enter when they leave us. I support the increased rigor and attention to this objective, but I view skepticism this 60% statistic. Colleges and high schools need to work together to build a better future for our nation’s youth.


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