Jan 23, 2010

New Study Underscores Gap between High School Preparation and College Expectations

Not enough is being done to prepare students for the demands of college-level reading according findings recently released from the ACT National Curriculum Survey. In fact, the overall disconnect between high school perceptions of “college-ready” and actual expectations among college instructors is chilling.

The ACT National Curriculum Survey results are based on a sample of 7,680 middle/junior high school teachers, high school teachers, and college instructors in English, writing, math, reading, and science. They not only detail the gap between high school preparation and postsecondary expectations, but also set out specific subject-area knowledge and skills deemed most important for students to learn in order to be ready for college level coursework.

According to the report, high school teachers are substantially more likely than college instructors to believe that high school students are graduating with the reading skills required for success in college. Approximately two-thirds of high school teachers reported that the majority of their students are ready to read at the level needed for college work in their content area, but only about a third of college instructors said the same of their incoming students.

And the disconnect doesn’t end there. A full 71 percent of the high school teachers surveyed reported that state standards, such as those tested through Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) and the Maryland High School Assessments (HSA), prepare students “well” or “very well” for college. Only 28 percent of college instructors agreed. As the pattern of teaching to the test has become the norm, teachers are increasingly required to cover a large number of state learning standards—so many that they don’t have the time to teach all of them adequately. As a result, the report suggests that students may graduate from high school without having mastered the fundamental knowledge and skills that college instructors say students need to succeed in credit-bearing first-year courses.

In other words, despite the millions of dollars spent on standardized testing—state based and college admissions—students are still entering postsecondary institutions unable to do the most basic work required of them. Is it any wonder that colleges are increasingly called upon to remediate shortcomings in high school preparation and only 56 percent of all undergraduates complete their diplomas in six years?

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