A new study looks at the gap in expectations between high schools, colleges and employers regarding the skills students must have mastered before being granted a higher school diploma. Kenneth Terrell explains within the Atlantic that even though getting students college-ready has become a focus of the education reform movement, the actual definition of college-readiness is certainly not set.
The study, published by the National Focus on Education and the Economy, examined the skills demanded of incoming community college students in seven states and compared these to the skills local high schools expected their graduates to want. The findings show that introductory courses in community colleges don’t have to have a high level of writing competency and that numeracy demands were even lower.
While the researchers found that “the reading and writing currently required of students in initial credit-bearing courses in vocational schools is not very complex or cognitively demanding,” the report’s math findings are much more striking. The report also states that middle school math–”arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and straightforward equations”–were more central to the community college math courses compared to Algebra II most high schools emphasize attending college readiness programs. “What really is needed in our community colleges–and extremely for the majority of Americans within the work they do–is junior high school math,” Tucker said.
Does that mean that community colleges have admissions standards set too low? Should they require more from their incoming students? According to Tucker, at this point over time, setting more demanding admissions requirements for community colleges would be pointless because too many students can’t even meet today’s standards.
Researchers also discovered that higher standards would create artificial barriers since most students won’t need advanced math in college C what they learn in middle school will suffice.
Similarly, the report found placement tests two-year colleges use to determine whether students should be in developmental education or credit-bearing courses also mismatch standards with the skills actually needed.
“It appears as though we’re denying high school graduates the chance to take credit-bearing courses simply because they can’t master math they don’t need, and that seems very unfair,” Tucker said.
Instead, “both schools and our vocational schools will have to help their students reach for different kinds of targets and, simultaneously, achieve at higher levels compared to what they do now,” the report notes.
This sheds new light on the remediation problem which has grown more urgent in the past few years. A lot more than 70% of college freshmen are placed in remedial classes before they can start taking classes for credit. Since being put into a remedial course comes with an impact on a student’s odds of graduating or transferring to a four-year college, it seems that giving it a second look in light of the NCEE study might be a crucial key to translating the cries for college readiness into actual college graduations.