Employers: Grads aren’t prepared for work

Most employers say college graduates aren’t prepared for work, reports a new survey. College students tend to be overconfident about their readiness.

“College for all” — or even job training for all — won’t revive the economy, argues a new book. We don’t lack skilled workers. We lack skilled jobs.

Two math pathways in high school?

Most community college students don’t need Algebra II, but do need mastery of middle-school math, concludes What Does It Really Mean To Be College and Work Ready?, a recent report by the National Center on Education and the Economy. In his Top Performers blog, NCEE’s Marc Tucker explains why he supports Common Core Standards, which require Algebra II content, but doesn’t think Algebra II should be  graduation requirement.

Algebra II prepares students to take calculus, which fewer than five percent of U.S. workers will use on the job, writes Tucker. Why require it of everyone?

Some students, including many who will go on to STEM careers, should study Algebra II and beyond, including, if possible, calculus.  But many others, going on to other sorts of careers, should study the advanced mathematics that is appropriate for the kind of work they will do.  Homebuilders, surveyors and navigators might need geometry and trigonometry, whereas those going into industrial production or public health might want to pursue statistics and probability.  We argued not for lowering the standards but for creating pathways through advanced mathematics in high school that make sense in terms of the kind of mathematics that may be most useful to students when they leave school and enter the workforce.

Phil Daro, who headed the team that wrote the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics, also co-chaired the NCEE study’s math panel. Daro writes that the Common Core math standards include “college ready” and STEM goals. The lower “college ready” standards are not as rigorous as a traditional Algebra II course, though they are “more demanding than the NCEE study found was necessary for success” in community college.

 In writing the CCSS, we were charged with articulating one set of standards for all students that would be sufficient preparation for 4-year college programs.  . . . we could not customize different standards for different students with different destinations.  The principle behind this is social justice, but it has a cost.  One could argue that it would be better to have the common standards end earlier, and specialized standards start sooner.

Indeed, my own view is that there should be two mathematics pathways to college readiness that split after grade 9: one for students with STEM ambitions and one for students with other ambitions.

To avoid “social justice risks associated with different pathways,” Daro suggests making both pathways qualify for college admission without remediation.

By 10th grade, students would have to decide whether to take the easier non-STEM path or tackle college-prep math courses that keep the door open to a career in engineering, math and hard sciences.

Now, many students wander through years of middle-school and college-prep math without understanding what they’re doing. If they’re assigned to remedial math in college, the odds are they won’t earn a degree or a job credential. Is that social justice?

NCEE: Only 5% need calculus

Only 5 percent of students will use calculus in college or the workplace, concludes a new report on college and career readiness by the National Center on Education and the Economy. Most community college students could succeed in college courses if they’ve mastered “middle school mathematics, especially arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and simple equations.” Many have not.

The report calls for providing an alternative track — less algebra, more statistics — for high school students who aren’t aiming at university STEM degrees.

In a few years, high school diplomas in North Carolina will show whether a graduate is prepared for a four-year university, a community college and/or a career.

Exams aren’t the enemy

Exams Aren’t the Enemy, writes Talmadge Nardi, a high school English teacher, in The Atlantic.

We must continue to be passionate and skillful teachers of critical thinking, writing and reading. And we must also continue to test our students. I am convinced that the combination of the two is what leads my students to success.

Nardi teaches at the Academy of the Pacific Rim (APR), a Boston charter school where three-quarters of students are black or Hispanic and a majority come from low-income families. The school ranks very high on the 10th-grade English MCAS, Massachusetts’ standardized exam.

I do virtually no explicit test preparation with my students. What I do instead is teach intensive reading, writing, and critical thinking skills to prepare them for my 11th and 12th-grade college-style seminars and beyond.

Since the MCAS is a handwritten test, she requires handwritten essays so students practice writing clearly and getting by without spellcheck. She also teaches them how to handle multiple-choice questions and how to much to write on essay questions. She reviews the plots and characters of books read in class so students will be prepared to write about a book for the long essay. But it doesn’t take much time and can be useful long after they’ve taken the MCAS, Nardi writes.

Part of college and career readiness is getting ready for exams. The MCAS, for example, is both a skill and an endurance test, and it prepares students to take tests of basic content knowledge–the kind of tests most professionals have to slog through to get to where they are. My students will have to take many such tests to gain access to professional fields like medicine, law, teaching and accounting.

Testing is Good for Teachers and Children, argues Matt Barnum on Dropout Nation. As a teacher, half of his evaluation was based on student performance on as many as five standardized assessments a year. “We knew where we stood in terms of performance, and so did our students,” he writes.

Testing helps students achieve mastery by making it possible to learn from mistakes, adds the editor. It also helps teachers and schools diagnose and address learning issues.

 

Florida legislators OKs two-track diploma

Florida will create a two-track high school diploma for college-bound and career-minded students under a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk, reports the Miami Herald.

If the proposal becomes law, the requirements for earning a standard diploma in Florida will change dramatically. Students still will have to pass an end-of-course exam in algebra and a standardized test in language arts. But they no longer will have to pass end-of-course exams in geometry and biology.

Instead, those exams would count for 30 percent of a student’s final grade in that subject.

A passing score on the biology exam would be necessary only for students wishing to add a new “scholar” designation to their diploma. Those students also would have to pass the algebra II exam, earn two credits in a foreign language and enroll in at least one college-level class, among other more rigorous requirements.

Students also can add a “merit” designation to their diploma by earning industry certification in a field such as automotive technology.

A “scholar” wouldn’t be guaranteed college admission and a student who earns vocational “merit” could pursue a bachelor’s degree, reports the Herald.

Not every student is going to go to college, said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee. However, all graduates “are going to be college ready.”

Why not say that non-scholar graduates will be ready for job training — in the military, at a community college or on the job — but not ready for academic higher education?

Texas may cut tests, graduation reqs

Texas leads the nation in test-based accountability for public schools, but now legislators may ease rigorous graduation requirements, reports the New York Times. Currently, high school students must take four years of English, math, social studies and science, unless their parents sign an opt-out form, and pass 15 end-of-course exams. A bill that’s already passed the Texas House would let students earn a diploma by passing five exams and taking only three years of math and science.

Not all students want to pursue a bachelor’s degree, argue the bill’s proponents.

Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, the Republican from Killeen who sponsored the House bill (which passed 147 to 2), said the revised curriculum would give students more options, including community colleges or technical schools. “I don’t want them to have to choose up or choose down,” Mr. Aycock said, “but choose what’s right for them.”

Critics say low-income and minority students will be tracked into lower-level classes.

“What we all know is when you leave it up to kids and schools, the poor kids and kids of color will be disproportionately not in the curriculum that could make the most difference for them,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for racial minorities and low-income children.

Texas’ graduation requirements are the toughest in the nation, especially when it comes to exit exams. Since the requirements went into effect in 2007, the graduation rate has risen from 63 percent to 72 percent. More low-income students are taking at least one Advanced Placement exam.

Lowering expectations means a “return to mediocrity” in Texas, argues Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

The bill establishes a “foundation diploma” with 13 required courses and cuts exit exams in “almost all the tougher courses,” Finn writes. Standards will vary widely: Without state end-of-course exams, schools and districts will be apt to “put rigorous-sounding labels on easy courses.”

. . .  since district superintendents will be tempted to offer only the courses that the state mandates, lots of young Texans—most of them likely poor or minority—will be left with no access to classes that would do the most to propel them to success in higher education and beyond.

Texans are debating whether every high school student needs to pass “advanced algebra” to earn a diploma, Finn writes.

. . . the nationwide “college for everybody” push has gone too far, particularly if what’s meant is a classic four-year liberal-arts degree. But in today’s economy, even young people headed for industry need plenty of serious math. It’s irresponsible not to give all of them such career options—and irresponsible also to suppose that sixteen-year-olds are in the best position to make lifetime decisions that they may later regret.

I understand the risks of letting students choose an easier path to a diploma. But I think many students need a choice between real college prep (you’ll have a good shot at earning a bachelor’s degree) and real career prep (you’ll have a good shot at earning a vocational certificate or associate degree).

Oregon may require college credit in high school

Oregon may require all high school students to pass college-level classes, reports Diverse.

A bipartisan group of legislators has introduced a bill that would require college coursework as a condition of graduating from high school. The move would increase the number of students going to college, make their degrees more affordable and encourage students not considering college to continue in higher education, said Sen. Mark Hass, a Beaverton Democrat who is the bill’s chief sponsor.

Oregon students must pass 24 high school classes to earn a diploma. In its current form, Senate Bill 222 would require six of those classes earn college credit, starting with the class of 2020. It promises funding — how much is unstated — to train high school teachers to teach college-level courses.

It’s nice to know Oregon students are so accomplished that all can be expected to complete high school work in three years and move on to college work.

North Carolina is more realistic: A bill backed by Gov. Pat McCrory would create a “career ready” diploma in addition to a “college ready” diploma. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and is headed for the House. “Career and technical teacher licensing requirements also would be revised to help develop more teachers in those fields,” reports AP. There are paths to a decent job that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, the governor believes.

Cutting to the core on scores

In the era of Common Core State Standards, all high school graduates are supposed to be ready for college or careers. That means the new tests must measure grade-level readiness in every grade, writes Checker Finn on Gadfly. Setting cut scores — how good is good enough? — will be difficult.

State officials fear “soaring failure rates, and not just among the poor and dispossessed,” Finn writes.

. . .  about half of eighth graders with college-educated parents fail to clear the “proficient” bar on NAEP. If (as mounting evidence suggests) “NAEP proficient” is roughly equivalent to “college ready,” and if the new assessments hew to that level of rigor and honesty, many millions of American youngsters will be found unready—and millions more will learn that they’re not on track toward readiness. Such a cold shower should benefit the nation over the long haul, but in the short run, it’s going to feel icy indeed.

Finn favors setting multiple passing levels, such as NAEP’s advanced, proficient and basic.  And, at least in the transition period, states will need to offer two levels of high school diploma rather than expecting everyone to meet the college-ready level.

He raises more questions about how Common Core testing will work. Will colleges and employers accept young people who’ve passed these tests as “ready” for college-level classes and skilled jobs? Does anyone know how to define “career readiness?” Will the GED be aligned to CCSS tests? What about credit-recovery programs?

In Getting Ready for Common Core Testing, Diane Ravitch posts a quiz question that a reader’s seven-year-old son got wrong.

Kings and queens COMMISSIONED Mozart to write symphonies for celebrations and ceremonies. What does COMMISSION mean?

A. to force someone to do work against his or her will
B. to divide a piece of music into different movements
C. to perform a long song accompanied by an orchestra
D. to pay someone to create artwork or a piece of music

It’s not clear who wrote the quiz or whether the second graders has read a story about Mozart. But I have to agree with the boy’s parent: Expecting second graders to understand “commission” (or “symphonies” with “movements”) is “nutso.”

Teachers are test experts, writes Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students in New York City.

A large part of my job entails assessing the progress and motivation of my students. And I do, in fact, write tests. I’d argue that my tests are far better than those designed by the city or state. This is at least partially because I cater my tests to the needs and abilities of my students and give them as my students need them, not on wholly arbitrary dates determined by the Board of Regents.

New York City teachers are sent to different schools to grade exams, so they won’t inflate their students’ scores, Goldstein writes. “If I can’t be trusted to design tests and I further can’t be trusted to grade them, I ought not to be teaching. If the state feels that we teachers are so incompetent and untrustworthy it ought to fire us all en masse.”

If states test real readiness, most will fail

Should states replace graduation exams with new tests aligned to Common Core State Standards? States have very different standards and methods of measurement now, writes Checker Finn. About half require students to pass an exit exam, usually pegged at ninth- to 10th-grade standards, which might be seventh- or eighth-grade standards under CCSS. Some now require students to pass end-of-course exams in high school. “There’s a widening belief in educator-land that this is a better course of action than a single statewide exit test,” he writes. Other states don’t believe in high-stakes test and trust teacher judgment.

No state graduation exam is considered evidence of college readiness or accepted by employers as proof of employability. Mastering the new standards is supposed to show college and career readiness.

If the “cut scores” (still to be set by the two assessment-building consortia) on new Common Core assessments at the 12th grade level truly signify college/workforce readiness and are accepted as such by the real world, the failure rate will be enormous for years to come and the political pushback will be powerful. How many states can withstand not giving diplomas to large fractions of kids who have persisted in school through 12th grade? Yet if they continue to give diplomas to just about everyone who persists, then many of those diplomas will continue not to signify college-workforce readiness and the real-world incentive/benefit effect will continue to be lost.

If CCSS is wildly successful, it still will take years for students to meet the new standards. Finn suggests setting multiple cut scores such as “minimal,” “tolerable,” and “truly college/career ready.”

This should be done at all grade levels, and kids (and parents and teachers) need to see the steep trajectory if they want to get from, say, minimal in 3rd grade to tolerable in 7th grade and “truly ready” by the end of high school.

Second, states should—for some years, but maybe not forever—award two kinds of high school diplomas: One will resemble the old kind and represents Carnegie units or maybe passing an old-style exit exam (or both), and nobody will claim that it denotes college/career readiness. The new one, however, will correlate with the “truly ready” level on the Common Core assessments (and whatever additional graduation requirements a state may want to impose in other subjects).

Many colleges and employers would have to accept the “truly ready” diploma as evidence the graduate can handle college-level math and English classes and job training, Finn writes.

I’d like to see a training-ready diploma as well as a college-ready diploma. Many young people would succeed in an apprenticeship or community college vocational class, if motivated to work harder in high school.

From Common Core to College Board

After helping write English Language Arts standards that will be used in 46 Common Core states, David Coleman is going to head College Board, which controls SAT and AP exams. A 42-year-old former McKinsey consultant (and liberal arts-loving Rhodes Scholar), Coleman is The Schoolmaster, writes Dana Goldstein as part of The Atlantic‘s excellent education report.

“I’m scared of rewarding bullshit,” Coleman told Goldstein. “I don’t think it’s costless at all.”

By bullshit, Coleman means the sort of watered-down curriculum that has become the norm in many American classrooms. For nearly two centuries, the United States resisted the idea, generally accepted abroad, that all students should share a certain body of knowledge and develop a specific set of skills. The ethos of local control is so ingrained in the American school system—and rifts over culture-war land mines such as teaching evolutionary theory are so deep—that even when the country began to slip in international academic rankings, in the 1980s, Congress could not agree on national curriculum standards.

As a result, states and school districts were largely left to their own devices, and test-makers were hesitant to ask questions about actual content. Education schools, meanwhile, were exposing several generations of English teachers to the ideas of progressive theorists like Lisa Delpit and Paulo Freire, who argued that the best way to empower children and build literacy skills—especially for students from poor or racially marginalized households—was to assign them books featuring characters similar to themselves, and to encourage them to write freely about their own lives.

Coleman wants students to read challenging materials and learn to answer questions by citing the text, not chatting about their personal experiences. (ACT’s report on building a content-rich curriculum.) His expectations are high. 

But Common Core’s “career ready” is exactly like “college ready,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. A “one size fits all” college-prep curriculum will leave behind many students who might be motivated by a career track, Carnevale argues.

When he takes over at College Board, Coleman plans to change the SAT from an aptitude test to a test of knowledge linked to Common Core Standards. He hopes to level the playing field for diligent, low-income students. (Good luck with that.)