Apropos of the thread below under the “Keeping the priorities straight” thread that became a discussion of standards-based testing in schools, the Manhatan Institute just sent out this interesting White Paper called “Public High School Graduation and College-Readiness Rates: 1991-2002”.
This study calculates high school graduation rates and the percentage of all students who left high school eligible to apply for college from 1991 to 2002. The study finds that during this period the graduation rate went from 72% to 71%, while the college readiness rate increased from 25% to 34%. The authors argue that the finding of flat high school graduation rates and increasing college readiness rates is likely the result of the increased standards and accountability programs over the last decade, which have required students to take more challenging courses required for admission to college without pushing those students to drop out of high school.
In other words, the authors claim that standards-based testing, rather than just pushing teachers to “teach to the test,” has actually resulted in students being pushed to learn more and thus more are prepared for college. Of course, what “prepared for college” means is an important question. According to the study, it means the student has a high school diploma, his transcript shows a minimum of work to enter a four-year public college (passing grades in four years of English, three of math, and two each of natural science, social science, and foreign language), and is basically literate. We’re not talking a very high bar here.
What does this leave out? It doesn’t speak to the capacity for critical thinking or creative problem-solving. It also doesn’t address whether those classes he passed in high school are worth spit. A passing grade means nothing if the classes are about anything except the subject (kind of like Newton’s math classes) or if the teacher hands out As like candy. In other words, there are flaws in the study. Still, if you keep those limitations in mind, it does present some interesting things to think about.
And descending from the general to the specific and anecdotal, those of you who actually teach in college know whether your own students are more or less prepared for college now than they were a decade ago (or whenever you started teaching, whichever was first.)