Yes, they're ready. No, they're not. A new survey shows a wide gap between high school teachers and college professors when it comes to the question of whether incoming freshmen are prepared for higher learning.
Just 26 percent of college instructors believe students are well-prepared for first-year courses, compared to 89 percent of high school teachers, according to the ACT National Curriculum Survey.
"We've seen for a number of years that there have been gaps between what skills colleges say are most important for students to learn and what high school teachers and school districts are teaching," said Ed Colby, spokesman for ACT. "There doesn't seem to be enough collaboration between local schools and colleges."
David Dowell, vice provost for academic affairs at Cal State Long Beach, said that was certainly true in the past.
"One of the findings from the California work was that high school English teachers focused on expressive writing in reaction to literature," Dowell said. "Colleges
expected fact-based expository writing. (Students) were doing well in their writing, but it was a different kind of writing. "ACT produces the report every three to five years. The survey looks at what is taught in schools and what is expected for student success at the college level when it comes to math, science, reading, writing and English.
This year's numbers are similar to its report in 2009.
ACT believes more work should be done to help K-12 teachers understand the skills students need when they enter college.
The report - based on a survey of 9,937 teachers from elementary school to college - said the effort to implement college-ready standards has fallen short because familiarity with the new standards varies among teachers.
That's despite 45 states since 2010 adopting tougher standards, called Common Core, that are supposed to help students get a strong education and prepare for college, regardless of whether they change schools within state or out.
"The skills in state learning standards oftentimes are far more numerous, a mile wide and an inch deep," Colby said. "Colleges are basically saying we need our students to have a mastery of the essential skills. That's where we've seen the disconnect in past."
Dowell expressed caution over reading too much into the gap between what high school teachers and college professors think about the college preparedness of students.
"First, we're dealing with reported perceptions," he said. "We're not dealing with hard evidence here, so on both sides of the equation, people are more likely to express a self-serving point of view. That's human nature."
But the goal of curriculum alignment is a good one, he said.
"The more patchwork standards we have at the K-12 level, the harder it is to create alignment," Dowell said.
Ground-level measures can be taken to make curriculum alignment happen. Dowell said there's been marked improvement among students coming from the Long Beach Unified School District.
"One of the things that has happened in Long Beach that has been very productive is organizing meetings by discipline - math faculty at high schools meeting with math faculty from colleges," Dowell said.
Colby said alignment needs to be reinforced at all levels of K-12 education.
In the Rialto Unified School District, an effort has been made to go beyond just offering advanced placement classes in high school, and to get students in elementary and middle school to start thinking about college, said Syeda Jafri, district spokeswoman.
College fairs are offered to middle school students and technology-based tutoring is available to students. Saturday classes are also made available to pupils.
"We are not just talking to high school students about college," Jafri said. "The motivation has to be instilled in students at an elementary and middle school level."
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