Monday, May 10, 2021

College readiness has been flat for 20 years


Based on performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, often referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card,” the percentage of US 12th graders who are college-ready in English has been flat for two decades, a new report from the Thomas B Fordham Institute says.

Source: Fordham Institute, based on NAEP data

But even though the percentage of high school seniors who appear to be ready for college-level work has remained flat, the percentage of college freshmen who are prepared for college has gone down, simply because more students are going to college these days. In 1994, about 61 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college, compared to 70 percent in 2009. The rate in 2013 backed off a little, and it’s reported to be 66 percent.

Some states are trying to reduce the amount of remediation required for students by forcing colleges to develop so-called “co-requisite” courses. Unlike remedial courses, students receive credit if they pass these courses, and they have access to tutors with co-requisite courses.

Some college faculty members have called co-requisite courses a recipe for failure because they discourage students, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

“You can’t take somebody who reads at junior high reading level, throw them into the deep end of the pool, and say, ‘OK, swim,’‚ÄČ… And that’s what this bill [does],” the paper quoted Laurel Watt, a remedial reading and study skills teacher at a Minnesota community college, as saying, referring to a bill Minnesota lawmakers are trying to pass to create co-requisite courses.

But other professors, pointing to the astronomical dropout rate of students who take remedial courses, say a change is needed for the growing number of college students who need some extra help. Nationwide, students placed into three semesters of remedial math have only about a 10 percent chance of passing a college-level math course, much less earning a degree, according to Complete College America, which is funded by the Gates Foundation.

Can we reliably measure long-term college readiness trends?

The Fordham report suggests that NAEP may not be a good indicator of a student’s potential, because students have no real stake in the exam. Indeed, students who participate in NAEP don’t even find out what score they got. However, college-ready benchmarks on tests with higher stakes, given to large sub-populations of high school students, like the ACT or the SAT, have hovered around the 40-percent mark as well, lending some measure of reliability to the use of NAEP data to estimate college readiness.

Furthermore, the NAEP is a test that’s given to a random selection of students across the country. It could therefore be the best estimate we have of college readiness. At least its data is readily available, and as a test given across the country, students taking it get scores tied to their ability rather than to differences in the standardized tests being administered, as happens with state-mandated tests.

Other measures of college readiness would certainly be better—including course titles and grades—but these data aren’t readily available going back as far as NAEP does.

Paul Katula
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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