Despite California’s strong content standards, many high school graduates aren’t ready for college-level classes or careers, write Bill Tucker and Anne Hyslop in Education Sector’s new report, Ready by Design: A College and Career Agenda for California. They discovered a disconnect between what high school English classes are teaching and what colleges expect students to be able to do.
San Diego County’s West Hills High School has many of the hallmarks of a solid school. Its middle-class students consistently master state standards, perform well on state achievement tests, and graduate at a high rate. But four years ago, school leaders realized they had a big problem. A stunning 95 percent of the top students in senior English
courses who were headed to nearby community colleges failed the colleges’ English placement tests.
. . . Alarmed, West Hills’ teachers joined with faculty at the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to see what had gone awry. They investigated years of student transcripts, exchanged lesson plans, and shared curricula.
They discovered high school students who’d done well in literature classes weren’t prepared for college classes that required “argumentation skills, analytical thinking, and writing clearly to inform, persuade, and describe.” (When I was in high school, we did nothing but expository writing, but that was before the invention of the journal.)
High school teachers revamped their English classes and persuaded local community colleges to let A and B English students skip the placement test and start in college-level courses. Success rates are high –86 percent — for West Hills graduates.
California needs to assess whether high schools are preparing students to succeed in college — not just enroll — and in careers, the report ecommends. The state’s Academic Performance Index looks only at test scores and graduation rates.
In addition to test scores, Florida measures participation and successful completion of advanced coursework like AP, IB, and dual enrollment, and industry certifications and performance on college entrance exams, Tucker and Hyslop write. “Although these additional measures are only predictors of preparedness, they are more closely related to desired outcomes than state test scores alone.”