Friday, March 10, 2006

Differing Perceptions of Student Preparedness for College

An interesting study just came out in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Two companion surveys were given to high school teachers and to college professors all across the nation, and the surveys asked about the level of preparedness for students leaving high school and entering college. There is a significant difference of opinion when the two surveys are compared.

For instance, 44% of college professors believe incoming students are not well prepared for college-level writing, as opposed to only 10% of high school teachers, while only 6% of college professors say students are well-prepared versus 36% of high school teachers who feel high school graduates going to college are writing at the college level. As for math preparedness, 32% of college professors believe students are not prepared for college matematics, compared to 9% of high school teachers. Only 4% believe the typical high school graduate is ready for college level math, while 37% of high school teachers are well prepared for college math. These are very different sets of opinions. A staggering 84% of the professors surveyed believe incoming students are not at all prepared or only somewhat prepared for college.

There are numerous questions and statistics for subject specific preparedness, and the summary article for the study shows taht teachers and profesors agree that students are, on average, becoming increasingly less motivated to study and learn and have poor study skills. There is a shared feeling overall that larger percentages of students are becoming satisfied with just doing minimal work while expecting high grades. This translates into high school teachers giving less homework because they don't expect to ever see it returned, as well as shorter writing assignments. Many more professors will give assignments for papers of 5 or more pages much more frequently than high school teachers, and this likely is a factor in the large discrepancy noted above between the two groups when it comes to writing skills; many students who go to college are not ready to handle longer papers because of a lack of experience. I suspect that many students are also unable to find larger amounts of relevant data or supporting evidence for the theses of longer papers simply because of a lack of experience while in high school. As one may have guessed, there are large differences between the groups when it comes to the preparedness and ability of students to do more advanced analyses of data and
the development of strong, logical arguments in their writing.

As I think about countless discussions with more senior colleagues, with 20-30 years of teaching experience, every teacher said that the level of rigor they have students work at is lower than what they taught 20 years ago; I honestly cannot recall a single teacher who said they are able to get students to work at a higher level than they traditionally taught in the past. This is especially true for teachers of honors classes, who complain that the level of study is noticeably lower than what they used to do 10 or more years ago. One potential reason for this is that significant numbers of counselors and parents push students who are not ready for or capable of doing true honors work into honors classes because they know this is what colleges want to see on a transcript. Many at my school, for instance, believe there is a negative stigma attached to 'regular' classes, and that one cannot make it to college if they take such a class. I suspect these are generally true on a relatively large scale in high school, and contribute to the professor's responses in the survey. In my opinion, there also seems to be the sense that expectations are being lowered for high school students, and academic excellence cannot be reached if teachers and students alike do not believe that the norm should be to constantly push yourself to higher and higher levels of critical thinking and problem solving and writing to communicate thoughts to others.

Check out the article and survey statistics if interested.


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