Sunday, September 27, 2020
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Tribune reports suburban kids have low college readiness

On Nov. 11, the Chicago Tribune ran a 4-Web-page article (link), which is pretty big for that newspaper, saying that high schoolers in suburban Chicago schools were mostly not ready for college at the end of their junior years. The Tribune’s reporters got a hold of some data through the filing of Freedom of Information Act requests and said the ACT scores it contained meant suburban Chicago kids, even those at good high schools — great high schools — were not college-ready.

“Eight of 10 public high school juniors in Illinois weren’t considered ready for college classes in all subjects based on ACT testing last spring — and many students missed the mark even at posh suburban Chicago schools that graduate some of the state’s brightest kids,” the article opens.

Let’s overlook, for now, that the venerable Chicago Tribune actually said kids who graduate from certain high schools tend to be brighter than kids who graduate from another high school. Let’s just call that profound error in judgment and understanding of how bright kids are an editor’s oversight or sloppy, careless writing on the part of the article’s multiple authors. Kids at “posh” schools might get higher test scores than those at less “posh” schools, but how “bright” a kid is, is a completely different question than what his or her test scores were. I’ll just leave it at that, since I have been harping on this as one of many reasons we should have psychometricians who can write putting articles in great papers like the Tribune, rather than writers who wouldn’t know what a piece of data meant if they had read a thousand-page book about it.

Anyway, after that ill-written lead, we readers dive right into those “posh” schools: “At Lake Forest, Deerfield, Northbrook and Hinsdale high schools, more than 40 percent of students didn’t meet all four ‘college readiness benchmarks’ — ACT scores indicating they could do at least average in key freshman classes,” the article continues.

Actually, 60 percent is pretty good, if you ask me. The US Census Bureau has reported (for many years, data left untouched by the Tribune, despite its relevance and indeed vital importance to this story) that only about 40-45 percent of adults 25 or older had a bachelor’s degree in DuPage County, where Hinsdale is located, and the same in Lake County, where Lake Forest, Deerfield, and Northbrook are located. This is a high number, actually (the US average, according to our government’s Census Bureau, is 27.9 percent).

The numbers at those high schools don’t indicate whether 60 percent of the kids will actually go to college and complete their studies — which we count as the definition of success — and it is our opinion that the Tribune should have reported that number: At so-and-so high school, about twice as many kids are prepared for college as in the general US population.

They may not go to college, but they are ready. Allow me to rewrite the second graf:

At public high schools in Lake Forest, Deerfield, Northbrook and Hinsdale, more than twice as many seniors this year are college-ready as in the general population, according to scores on the ACT they achieved at the end of their junior year. And of course, they still have another year to get ready.

Then, we can question the validity of the ACT scores used for passing this particular judgment on suburban kids. That’s actually something that’s worth looking into, but test scores are only one indication of success. Most of the families in Lake Forest, for example, do not report being low-income. Most do not report having zero household members in employment for more than 12 consecutive months.

In fact, the whole anti-poverty thing is part of the culture in Lake Forest, and going to college is a big part of that. These kids are driven, not just by their ACT scores, which are really only an indicator, but by their whole upbringing, the culture of learning and finding fascination in new discoveries, that has been part of their lives since they were born.

There’s your story. The numbers in Cook and Will counties, from the Census Bureau, again (2009 American Community Survey), are a little lower — 30 to 35 percent of people over 25 in those counties have bachelor’s degrees. The Tribune did a very nice job of including lots of schools in their magnum report.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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