The core standards gap

Most college-bound 11th graders lack the reading, writing and math skills called for in the new Common Core Standards, concludes an ACT analysis. Ed Week summarizes:

Within English/language arts, only 38 percent of 11th graders hit the proficient range in reading, and barely more than half reached it in writing and in language. Particular subsets of skills stood out as weaknesses: Only three in 10 proved themselves well-versed enough in conquering progressively more complex texts, and only a shade more demonstrated enough strength in their knowledge of language and vocabulary.

. . . Not even one-quarter of the students showed college-ready levels of skill in understanding scientific reading material. They showed more strength in reading literature, and in grappling with informational texts and social studies material, though proficiency levels in those areas still ranged only between 37 percent and 41 percent.

In math, only 37 percent of students showed proficiency in statistics and probability, and only four in 10 did so in functions. The weakest math area was number and quantity, where only 34 percent showed proficiency in skills considered foundational to later math study. ACT officials were troubled by students’ weaknesses on a set of items that reflect their prowess with “mathematical practices,” such as reasoning abstractly, modeling with math, and making sense of problems and persevering to solve them. Only one-third of students showed proficiency in those skills.

Only one in 10 African-American students reached college-ready levels in reading and in the number and quantity area of math.

Students should “read progressively more complex texts as they go through school” and develop science and history literacy skills, the report urges.  In math, schools should focus on early-grades number-and-quantity skills and strengthening students’ understanding of mathematical processes and practices, the report advises.

Jason Zimba, one of the lead authors of the math section of the common standards, said he welcomed the study’s recommendation to focus on early-grades foundational math, which is typically “beneath the radar of state testing.”

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core Standards, which seek to define the knowledge and skills needed for college or a career.

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  1. If these so-called “college bound” 11th graders lack the necessary skills to succeed in college, and cannot remedy that situation by the time they leave high school, the solution is simple, don’t admit them until they have the required skills. Since the ACT is graded on a score of 0-36, I wouldn’t admit a student who cannot score at least a composite of 21 or higher.

    Some might call this unfair, but it’s also unfair to admit students who aren’t prepared to only have them drop out after a year or so of taking coursework which won’t give them credit in their major.

  2. Actually, Bill, 24 on the ACT is considered college ready. I’ve noted that my students who get qualifying scores on the English AP exams are generally in the 29+ range on the ACT. So, 1/3 to 1/2 sounds about right to me since the Common Core standards read like they were copied and pasted from the College Board Course Descriptions (but I don’t work in Lake Wobegone).

    FWIW, my state has adopted Common Core, but I haven’t seen anything come down to the district level yet. As far as I know, we’ll be tested on the old standards for a couple of years yet.

  3. Peace Corps says:

    I just have to share this. One of my Precal students (maybe more that I don’t know about) did not know that multiplying by one-half is the same as dividing by two. How has this kid made it this far (Precal) without this basic understanding? I have found more basic math gaps in my students, but this one just floored me.

  4. Ummm, this shouldn’t shock you, give the performance of US students on the PISA (latest results show the US in the middle of the pack, or below average), but if the kid didn’t know that, there is probably a lot more he doesn’t know.

    Try having them do some addition and subtraction of fractions, along with some multiplication and division (I think you’ll be in for a shock).

  5. cranberry says:

    If 70% of high school graduates enroll in college, and 49% new undergrads receive a certificate or diploma in 6 years, that works out to…. 34% of high school graduates manage to finish college or a degree program in 6 years.

    Gee, that’s awfully close to 37%. It’s as if the ACT actually measures the skills you need to succeed in college. Imagine that.

    What if all funding for college were linked to an adequate performance on the ACT? As student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, wouldn’t it be kinder to not enroll the students who will flunk out?*

    Everyone involved can point fingers at each other. The schools, the teachers, the parents, the students. Of course, there are students who are successful despite low test scores, and there are those who won’t finish despite high test scores. And yet, the figures coincide so well.

    *Will never happen. The colleges have no interest in shrinking by 50%.