Sunday, May 9, 2021

H.S. diplomas shouldn’t mean college-readiness


Passing out high school diplomas in response to a big push to increase graduation rates and make schools look good mostly just results in nothing more than a devaluation of those diplomas, secondary to a dumbing down of the criteria we have for awarding them.

Baltimore Studio of Hair Design and School of Cosmetology

The increase in high-school graduation rates nationwide is generally a good thing, the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, as saying. But when credentials are handed out for work that doesn’t prepare someone for college or a career, “these diplomas are tickets to nowhere that provide false assurances of academic readiness for success in college and career.”

Katherine Mangan, the author of the article, was writing about a report Achieve released in October, entitled “How the States Got Their Rates.”

Achieve, a nonprofit, works to promote the Common Core and defines college- or career-readiness as taking at least three years of math and four years of rigorous English. From the New York City government, we can see a sample of Achieve’s definition:

College today means much more than just pursuing a four- year degree at a university. Being “college-ready” means being prepared for any postsecondary education or training experience, including study at two- and four-year institutions leading to a postsecondary credential (i.e. a certificate, license, associate’s or bachelor’s degree). Being ready for college means that a high school graduate has the English and mathematics knowledge and skills necessary to qualify for and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses without the need for remedial coursework.

I have in the past called into question the definition of “college-ready” as being nebulous. If I were a judge, I’d probably find that no law could be supported with or by the term, since the meaning is so subjective that adjudicating any actual case would be impossible.

With the above definition, Achieve also opens the door to wide interpretation. The assertion that a student who’s “college-ready” is prepared for “any” postsecondary education or training experience is poorly worded. Being ready for Stanford University is not the same as being ready for the Baltimore School of Cosmetology. Furthermore, understanding needs to be added to our definition to include the diverse goals our students have for their own lives, not lives that fit a mold that has been predefined for them, whether or not they agree with that mold.

The increasing gap between high school graduation requirements across the country and college-readiness is putting a strain on community colleges more than any other institution or group. These colleges have developed powerful remediation strategies for preparing students to enter universities or the work force, but they can only handle so much. If, say, half of the students at the college are struggling, resources are strapped.

But this view attacks the problem somewhat in reverse by conflating the goals of high school with those of our universities, colleges, and community colleges. Of course high schools are going to fail to produce students who are college-ready, simply because in any high school, there will be students who have no real interest in being college-ready. As with standardized tests, if it doesn’t count for students, don’t expect them to try to perform at their best.

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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