Teachers, profs disagree on college readiness

College readiness is in the eye of the beholder: 89 percent of high school teachers think their students are “well” or “very well” prepared for college in their subject, but only 26 percent of professors say first-year students are well prepared for entry-level courses, according to the 2012 ACT National Curriculum Survey.

Two-thirds of teachers who were aware of the Common Core State Standards said they will need to change their current curriculum no more than slightly in response to the standards, the survey found.

In Colorado, 40 percent of first-year college students required at least one remedial course in 2012, including 66 percent of students who enrolled in community colleges and 24 percent at four-year institutions.  Among unprepared students, 51 percent required remediation in mathematics, 31 percent in writing and 18 percent in reading.

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  1. There’s probably a bit of cluelessness on both sides of this. I’ve heard high school teachers admit that their standards have slipped over time (there may be good reasons for it) so their expectations for ‘average’ may change over time.

    On the faculty side…as a grad student, I would watch faculty try to explain things to undergrads, either in classes or the lab. It’s been so long since they had to start from the beginning that they forget what they didn’t know.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Most of my Honors level students (about a third of the school) will do well. Few of my College level (basically, the other two thirds) will.

    When I’m in a good mood, I call that “ironic.”

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    Given the percentage of college kids that have to take remedial courses, either the high school teachers are *WAY* too optimistic or the colleges are requiring unnecessary remedial courses. Or a bunch of the high school teachers consider “needs to take a remedial course” to be “‘well’ or ‘very well’ prepared for college.” Which I doubt.


    Looking at the math section of the 2009 report, it looks like there is either a huge disconnect between what the colleges think that the kids should know *OR* how well the high school teachers think the kids know the material.


    The single most important math topic for the college teachers is the ability to add and subtract signed mixed numbers (e.g. 2/3 – 2 9/10). The high school teachers think this is the 27th most important math topic, and that the ability to solve quadratic equations is the most important. But you need to be able to handle mixed numbers to deal with quadratics.


    My guess is that the high school teachers think that their students know the basics (mixed number addition/subtraction is an elementary school topic) better than the college teachers think that these same kids know the basics.


    Can any high school math teachers comment?

    • While I’m not a math teacher, I can tell you when you’re having to deal with fractions in a college level course, that’s stuff which should have been learned in elementary school (it was when I attended).

      My definition of a college ready freshman, in terms of coursework (average grade of C or better for course):

      English 101/102 (6 credit hours)
      Biology (general/animal/plant) (2 semesters, 8 credit hours)
      Sociology/Psych/Econ/Philosophy (101/102) 6 credit hours
      Poly Sci 101/US Government (3-6 credit hours)
      Math (finite, intro to stats, pre-calc, or higher math) 3-8 credit hours.

      That’s what a typical first year program (core classwork only) looked like when I was a freshman back in 1981.

      As I’ve said in many postings, students who need that much remediation have absolutely NO business being admitted to college, rather they need to be in adult or continuing education, or spending some time with a private tutoring service getting the skills needed to succeed in doing college level work.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        I pretty much agree with you. What I’d like to know is if:
        (a) the high school math teachers think that 89% of their kids (or whatever) know how to work with fractions, or
        (b) the high school math teachers don’t think this is necessary for college, or
        (c) something else.

        There really seems to be a large disconnect here.

        • We think working with fractions is very important, but it’s not on the test after 5th grade, so we can’t spend time teaching it.

          I have kids who can’t multiply and divide. It kills me to be unable to take the time to teach them. But I’m evaluated on their performance on the test, and they can perform well on the test despite their inability to multiply and divide. If I took time to teach multiplication and division, the kids wouldn’t be receiving grade level instruction those weeks, and that would negatively affect their test scores.

          We think its stupid, but since we are constantly told that the achievement test and standards are for ” college and career readiness,” we assume that kids who pass the test are college and career ready.

          • Richard Aubrey says:

            Not sure how hard it would be to design a test testing what the kids actually need to know. If that were done, teaching to it would work.
            I’m sure this conclusion is obvious except, perhaps, to the test designers. Or maybe they know it, too, but screwed up. In which case, design a new test.
            And history. This wouldn’t be happening if there had not been a long-simmering dissatisfaction on the part of society in general with the graduates’ abilities.
            As usual, when there’s a ham-fisted, clunky, ineffective or counterproductive government program, the backstory is that there’s a problem that was going unaddressed for a long time. And the clunker was the best response anybody could come up with–which probably tells you something–and may, indeed, be the best that can be done. But the backstory isn’t that nothing was wrong until the clunker showed up.

        • Working with fractions IS important, and it’s obvious that kids don’t “get” it. Difficult to back up and teach it because there is huge resentment to learning “kiddie” stuff.

          One point it gets obvious is when you teach slope – you know like a slope of 2/3 that’s pretty fraction like. Don’t even get me started on the 25% of my Algebra II students who can’t plot points on a Cartesian plane. Pre-test I asked them to plot out (2,3) and got TWO points – one at (2,0) and another at (0,3) and the other wrong combinations. Some even connected them with a line!

          If you look at the college readiness indicators from the ACT people, it looks like the professors are closer to correct than the high school teachers.

  4. Miller Smith says:

    Uh, why are colleges complaining about the qualifications of the people the colleges admitted under the college’s admission standards?

    Want to send a message tha will be heard loudly and clearly? Colleges must simply raise their standards. But they won’t. Colleges will continue to consume what high schools produce and talk with their mouths full of that product and scream,”We can’t believe what we’re having to eat!”

    Like the formally high priced escort colleges are having to fake seedier clients. All we are arguing over is the price.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      The college professors are complaining about the qualifications of the students that the admissions folks allow in. The college is not monolithic.


      You are correct that the professors don’t want the standards raised at the cost of substantially fewer freshmen, followed by layoffs amongst the professors.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      There is a difference between college professors and college admissions officers. I’m sure professors would like to teach only qualified students.

      However, if the choice were between teaching unqualified students, and not having a job because there aren’t enough qualified applicants for admission, I’m pretty sure they would pick door number one.

  5. Miller Smith says:

    Point on all!

    Professors can simply fail the pitiful product the admissions officers let into the classrooms…but again they won’t. They want their money. The Ivory Tower is now a Brothel.

    If they’re going to take the money they could at least have the good manners of a prostitute and not publically complain about the “performance” of their clients.