Thursday, August 18, 2011

Scores show American students aren’t ready for college

75% may need remedial classes

For many students, getting a high school diploma doesn’t mark the end of a high school education.

Three out of four graduates aren’t fully prepared for college and likely need to take at least one remedial class, according to the latest annual survey from the nonprofit testing organization ACT, which measured half of the nation’s high school seniors in English, math, reading and science proficiency.

Only 25 percent cleared all of ACT’s college preparedness benchmarks, while 75 percent likely will spend part of their freshman year brushing up on high-school-level course work. The 2011 class is best prepared for college-level English courses, with 73 percent clearing the bar in that subject. Students are most likely to need remedial classes in science and math, the report says.

Although the results are slightly better than last year — 24 percent of the 2010 graduating class met ACT’s four thresholds — the report highlights a glaring disconnect between finishing high school and being ready for the academic challenges of college.

These ACT results are another sign that states need to raise their academic standards and commit to education reforms that accelerate student achievement,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.

While often frustrating for professors who are forced to spend a semester teaching concepts their students should have learned by the end of 12th grade, remedial classes also carry more serious consequences.

Students are much more likely to drop out of college if they feel that they are simply repeating high school, said Bob Wise, former West Virginia governor and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Taxpayers also suffer, Mr. Wise said, by “paying twice” for students to take high-school-level classes again, since most remedial work doesn’t count toward college graduation.

In the 2007-08 academic year, the alliance estimates, remedial courses cost about $5.6 billion — $3.6 billion in “direct educational costs” such as taxpayer contributions to state universities and another $2 billion in lost wages, a result of giving up on higher education and missing out on the bigger paychecks that tend to come with college degrees.

“There simply has not been alignment or coordination between the K-12 system and the higher education system about what students need to know,” Mr. Wise said Tuesday.

“What we know about remedial courses is the student and the taxpayer are paying twice. You’re paying a lot of money to get back” to the academic level students should be at on the day they graduate from high school.

Even those at the top of their high school classes are often ill-prepared for college.

A 2008 report by the education advocacy group Strong American Schools found that 80 percent of college students taking remedial classes had a high school GPA of 3.0 or better.

The ACT results fuel critics’ argument that federal education policy, with its heavy focus on standardized tests, does little to advance real-world goals such as college readiness and career preparation.

“Test-driven policies which claim to be improving U.S. public schools have, in fact, failed by their own standards,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “Proponents of No Child Left Behind and similar state-level high-stakes testing programs … made two promises: Their strategy would boost overall academic performance and it would narrow historic achievement gaps between ethnic groups. But academic gains, as measured by ACT, are stagnant and racial gaps are increasing.”


British pupils who take harder A-levels should be given priority for university places, says education minister

Pupils who have taken 'traditional' A-levels such as maths and foreign languages should take precedence in the race for university places, the higher education minister has said.

David Willetts said that more modern subjects such as dance and media studies should not be recognised as core academic subjects. His comments came as around 250,000 A-level students wait to discover their exam results tomorrow.

Mr Willetts told the Daily Telegraph that the points system used in university admissions 'sends a very bad message to young people by implying that all A-levels have an equal chance of helping them into university.'

Currently Ucas, which processes university applications, allocates points based on the grade achieved, regardless of the subject.

Mr Willetts added: '[Ucas] are operating a massive system with more than half a million applications, but they need to signal the importance of some A-levels more than others and that message is often hidden behind a tariff point model.'

He also said that work-based apprenticeships should be accepted as a way to get into university.

Concerns have been raised this year about students who fail to secure a university place and could face the daunting prospect of up to three times higher tuition fees in 2012.

Dr Wendy Piatt, of the Russell Group, which represents top universities, said that it was not realistic to expect every student who wants to go to university to get a place. She said: 'The costs to the taxpayer of a very generous system of student loans and grants make it unrealistic to think that the country could afford to offer a properly funded university place to everyone who would like one. 'In a tight fiscal climate, maintaining the quality of the student experience must be a greater priority than expanding the number of places.'

On Monday Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, expressed concern about the financial burden for those who miss out. She said: 'This year, more than ever, we fear for the thousands of students who miss out on a university place and face paying three times more next year or struggle to find careers advice following Government cuts.'

But Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, sought to play down the fears. She said: 'It must be very dispiriting for students who have worked hard for the results they're receiving to be faced with a barrage of gloom and apocalyptic predictions, that usually turn out to be incorrect. 'People making such unfounded forecasts, usually to score cheap political points, are quite irresponsible and they should consider the impact it has on applicants.

'I would advise people looking to secure a university place to speak directly to specialist advisers at Ucas and at universities.' She said that last year nearly 70 per cent of university applicants were accepted onto a course.

This summer's A-level and GCSE exam papers have been beset by errors. Around 100,000 students in total are thought to have been affected by mistakes found in 12 different exam papers this summer. The blunders ranged from wrong answers in a multiple choice paper to impossible questions and printing errors.

The five exams boards responsible for the errors have promised students that they will not be penalised, in what looks to be a record year in terms of top grades.

Education expert Professor Alan Smithers predicted earlier this week that one in 10 A-levels could be graded as A*, as this year teachers and students have a better understanding of what is required to gain the top result. However, he also suggested that the overall pass rate was likely to stay about the same, perhaps rising or falling by only 0.1 per cent.


Pay teachers on merit, OECD tells Australian government

TEACHERS' skills should be linked to career structure and pay, so that advancement is based on competency rather than years spent in the job.

An international report on Australia's school system, to be released today, endorses the direction of the Labor Government's education revolution, including national tests, reporting of school performance on the My School website, national curriculum and "commitment to transparency".

The OECD report also praises the introduction of national teaching standards, performance goals and the system's strong focus on students' results.

But it urges the Government to go further and identifies "a number of missing links", including that career structures for teachers are not tied to teaching standards.

"This translates into a detrimental separation between the definition of skills and competencies at different stages of the career, as reflected in teaching standards, and the roles and responsibilities of teachers in schools, as reflected in career structures," it says.

The report highlights the need to broaden the use of student assessment, including the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy, and warns against using the results to identify problems in individual students.

It says government has focused on using assessments to hold schools accountable but is yet to look at how the data can be used to make improvements in the classroom.

"The national education agenda has placed considerable investment in establishing national standards, national testing and reporting requirements, while it provides considerably less direction and strategy on how to achieve the improvement function of evaluation and assessment," it says.

The report recommends the performance of non-government schools be scrutinised more closely, saying the reporting of outcomes in private schools is "still limited to a simple set of compliance statements and does not focus on performance".

It also calls for independent reports evaluating schools to be published on My School to provide more comprehensive information about the quality of teaching and warns teachers against using the national literacy and numeracy tests to identify problems in individual students.

The report into student assessment in Australia is part of a broader review by the OECD of the different systems around the world for assessing and evaluating students and schools, and the way they can improve outcomes.


No comments: