A Crisis of Unprepared Freshmen

Shakira Lockett was a pretty good student in elementary, middle and high school. The Miami-Dade County native says she typically earned AS and BS in English classes.

Math was always something of a struggle for Lockett. Still, she got through her high school exit exam with a passing grade and went on to graduate from Coral Gables Senior High School in 2008.

She went straight to Miami Dade College. Then, something unexpected happened: She flunked the college placement exams in all three subjects – reading, writing and math. That didn’t mean she couldn’t attend the school; all state and community colleges in Florida have an open-door policy, which means everyone is accepted. But it did mean she had to take remedial courses before she could start college-level work.

“When they told me I had to start a Reading 2 and Reading 3 class, I was like, ‘Serious?’” Lockett said. “Because I’ve always been good at reading.”

Lockett, who is now 22, spent a year-and-a half taking remedial classes before she could start her first college-level class to count toward her degree in mass communication and journalism. The seven extra courses cost her $300 each.

Lockett found having to take remedial classes discouraging. “It makes you feel dumb,” Lockett said. “And you ask yourself, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’” (Read more.)

Via Sarah Gonzalez, McNelly Torres and Lynn Weddell, FCIR.

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Making The Cut Colleges, State Re-Examine Placement Tests

Consider the cut score, that all-encompassing, essential number that determines the future of legions of community college students.
Score above the cut score on a standardized placement test and proceed to college-level course work, greatly enhancing the chances of eventually earning a college degree.

Earn a score below the cut line and get a ticket to one or more developmental courses, a place sometimes dubbed the Bermuda Triangle of higher education — the place where students go in, but never come out. Only a tiny percentage of students who take remedial courses ever finish college.

That high-stakes nature of placement tests employed by community colleges across the country is among the factors driving a fundamental re-examination of the exams, raising questions about whether they create a serious impediment to the college completion agenda.

An emerging body of research indicates that standardized placement tests are poor predictors of college success and that a student’s high school transcript does a far better job of telling a college where a beginning student belongs.

That hypothesis is now being tested by Long Beach City College in California, which just admitted a cohort of nearly 1,000 students whose placements were determined not by a placement test, but by their high school grades.

“I don’t think that tests are the evil here,” said college President Eloy Oakley. “The way we have used the tests are the problem. We have leaned on the placement tests almost totally to place students. I don’t think you can rely just on a test to judge a student’s capacity to succeed.” (Read more.)

Via Paul Bradley, Editor, Community College Week.

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ACT Finds Most Students Still Not Ready for College

Student performance on the ACT essentially held steady this year, with slight improvement shown in the math and science parts of the college-entrance exam.

Still, 60 percent of the class of 2012 that took the test failed to meet benchmarks in two of the four subjects tested, putting them in jeopardy of failing in their pursuit of a college degree and careers.

The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2012, released today by the Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit testing organization ACT Inc., includes performance information from students in the spring graduating class who took the ACT as sophomores, juniors, or seniors. This year, 1.67 million seniors or 52 percent of the U.S. graduating class took the exam.

“I was hoping with the focus [in the education community] on career and college readiness, we’d start to see a more dramatic improvement. We are still early in that,” said ACT President Jon Erickson. A greater focus on career and college standards and more attention to teacher professional development are encouraging signs, he added, but the output from a graduating class is not apparent yet.

The average composite score was 21.1—the same as it has been for the past five years. A perfect score is 36.

ACT Inc. has set “college-readiness benchmarks” in the four subjects it tests: English/language arts, reading, mathematics, and science. That is the measure needed to predict a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical first-year college course.

In this year’s report, 25 percent of all tested high school graduates met the mark in all four subjects—the same percentage as last year. It had steadily climbed in the previous three years.

Fifteen percent of the test-takers met one subject benchmark, 17 percent met two, and 15 percent met three. Twenty-eight percent failed to meet the minimum standard in any area. <Read more.>

Via Caralee J. Adams, Education Week.

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Struggling for Students’ Readiness

The majority of Texas students do not leave public schools prepared for college.

Fewer than one in two students met the state’s “college readiness” standards in math and verbal skills on ACT, SAT and TAKS scores in 2010. Though average SAT scores in both verbal and math dropped between 2007 and 2010 — a trend that state education officials have attributed to an increase in students taking the test — more students in the same period of time have met the state’s standards for college-ready graduates, largely because of improvements on their state standardized tests and the ACT.

But that increase is only a slim silver lining in what appears to be a large storm cloud.

“It’s still pathetic,” Dominic Chavez, a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spokesman, said of the ACT scores. “It’s still a very low number, and nobody is satisfied with it.”

Getting to a number that is satisfying is a task that policy makers, educators and the business community have grappled with for years. And although the current data show that something is not going right, pinpointing why is difficult. Part of the trouble is that while it is easy to define what skills students need to be successful in college, so far the measures used to assess the ways they lack those skills have returned an incomplete picture.

Debates over lagging performance at community colleges and four-year institutions can devolve into finger-pointing between the higher education and K-12 camps, each blaming the other for students’ poor performance at the postsecondary level. (Read more.)

Via Morgan Smith, The New York Times.

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Better Gauges of College Readiness May Be Key to Improving Graduation Rates

College placement tests are receiving new scrutiny these days as community colleges come under increasing pressure to graduate more students.

Placement tests are used to determine how well-prepared students are for the rigor of college-level courses. Students who do poorly on the tests are usually placed in developmental, or remedial, education. In fact, about 60 percent of high-school graduates who enroll at two-year colleges have to take remedial courses. But a rash of recent studies has started to cast a doubt on the effectiveness of placement tests and their role in higher education.

“Where to Begin? The Evolving Role of Placement Exams for Students Starting College,” released Tuesday by Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization that studies education and work-force issues, explores how institutions and even states are grappling with this issue and the decisions they are making to ensure that their students graduate.

The report highlights emerging research that has begun to challenge long-held notions about how well placement tests work in determining college readiness. One of the more striking revelations in the report is research from the Community College Research Center that found that the grades high-school students earn is a better predictor of how well they will do in college than the scores they receive on a placement test.

“Up to one-third of students were found to be ‘severely misassigned’ using placement-test results, and that error rate could be reduced in half by using high-school grades instead of test scores,” the report says of the research center’s findings.

The report also highlights research that shows “that students who are placed into developmental classes have a very low likelihood of ever completing college.”

Such findings are of concern because it makes the task of graduating more students that much harder. (Read more.)

Via Jennifer González, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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