Unprepared by college-prep classes

Only a quarter of students who take college-prep classes are well prepared for college, according to “Rigor at Risk,” a new study of last year’s high school graduates by ACT. The New York Times reports:

The study predicted whether the students had a good chance of scoring C or better in introductory college courses, based on their test scores and the success rates of past test takers.

The study concluded that only 26 percent were ready for college-level work in all four core areas, while 19 percent were not adequately prepared in any of them.

Only 54 percent of students who took the ACT exam said they’d taken the core curriculum. Those who’d taken fewer college-prep courses were very poorly prepared: “Only 14 percent were judged ready for college work in all four subject areas, while 36 percent were not prepared in any.”

Students who took the right classes, passed and aren’t prepared have been cheated. And just look at all the kids who thought they could go to college without taking even the minimum prep classes. Well, they can go. But they’re not likely to earn a degree.

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  1. I’m a big fan of the ACT, but there’s absolutely no way they can draw that conclusion based on their reading and science reasoning tests. They have no means of distinguishing how many students just don’t finish a test of 4 750 passages with ten questions each (averaging 8.5 minutes per passage).

  2. Statement by Marc Tucker, Vice-Chairman and Staff Director, New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce

    On the new ACT report, “Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in the High School Core Curriculum”

    “Saying that students who have X many years of math and Y many years of science will do well in college is like saying that the Yugo will compete with the Lexus because it, too, has four wheels and an engine.

    The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce pointed out in its 2006 report, Tough Choices or Tough Times, that the majority of U.S. high school students graduate with an eighth grade level of literacy or less. So, it should not be a surprise that these same students cannot do college level work.

    The U.S. is already the world’s second largest spender on primary and secondary education — so, changes to the level of education spending will not get us out of this mess. Only by redesigning our education system based on the practices of the world’s best education systems can we give our children any hope of being competitive in today’s world.”

  3. Charles R. Williams says:

    This is not news to anyone who teaches in a public university.

    The cure is really very simple: have the local state university write the final exam in key courses like algebra 2, English, Chemistry, etc.

    Will this happen? No. Why? Because high schools and high schools students would be forced to change or to admit that they are failing. As for parents, most of them want their children to have a pleasant experience in high school and to get some kind of college degree – whether it means anything or not.

    The math section of the Ohio Graduation Test is beautifully constructed. If they ever implemented the test in an honest way it would put the remedial math operations at Ohio public universities out of business. Well, the passing score on this test is ridiculously low.

    No one wants to face the fact that a high school diploma is a meaningless piece of paper.

  4. Pat McGee says:

    There are many reasons why students are not prepared for college prep classes. (This may not be applicable to anywhere but California, which is where I teach)
    1. An elimination of tracking of students and not tailoring classes to fit the needs of various levels of students. At my school we offer AP US History classes and then a “regular” history class for everyone else. The regular course is classified as Univ. of Ca. acceptable, but it is not in any way a truly college preparatory class. There are no term papers or essay questions. This was done to make scheduling easier. The less levels of classes there are the easier it is to match students, teachers and classes. It also gives teachers less prepataions.
    2. A general loss of cultural awareness by America’s youth. They simply do not know as much as students in past generations did. This is very important. I spend hours explaining America’s culture to my students…things we used to know because we had grown up in America.
    3. A serious loss of vocabulary. This is a result of watching too much TV and playing video games. Neither of those activities stimulate the mind like reading a book and becoming engrossed with it.
    3. College prep classes have been dumbed down. Texts often do not challenge them because they are chosen to meet their reading abilities rather than to stretch their abilities.
    4. The young teachers I see coming into the profession do not have the academic background that was expected once upon a time. This has to do with credentialing requirements. Schools want people with generic credentials that allow them to be assigned to just about any class rather than have teachers who have real expertise in specific subjects. This is especially true with math. Few math majors go into teaching. Many people who teach math today have no real background in the subject. It is no wonder that we test poorly in math. In Social Studies future teachers are asked to earn a little about a lot and not much of anything in particular.

    There are many other reasons, but these suffice for now.

  5. Pat McGee is dead-on in commenting on the “dumbing-down” and lack of rigor in many allegedly “college prep” classes. In my research for my blog post on the topic the other day, I was shocked to discover that 62% of high school social studies/history teachers *NEVER* assign papers of 3,000-5,000 words (approx 9-15 pages) and 81% never assign papers of >5,000 words. No wonder students come to college inadequately prepared for the demands of college-level work!

    You can read more of my thoughts on the topic here: