Are Your Students Ready for the Postsecondary World?

Earlier this month, a story in USA Today reported that nearly two-thirds of students beginning community colleges find themselves in need of at least one remedial course.  That’s too bad.  At the macro level the story reports that the Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that our nation spends as much as $1.4 billion per year to provide remedial education.  At the individual level, the personal costs of remediation are far-reaching:

Students who need remedial classes are also more likely to drop out: Those taking any remedial reading, for example, had a 17% chance of completing a bachelor’s degree, according to 2004 Education Department data…

“Right away your dreams of going to college are deferred, because technically you’re not in college,” she said.  “If you start in a remedial class, the odds are that you will never finish a credit bearing course in the subject.”

The Obama administration, including Arne Duncan, have recently begun to shift the focus from proficiency to ‘college and career readiness’.  That’s a welcome change.  Far too many students graduate high school at a ‘proficient’ level, yet find themeselves unprepared for the rigrorous text demands found within the university or many career paths.  Ample research has demonstrated the gap that exists between the text demands of high school and those found within the post-secondary world.  In ‘Student Readiness for Postsecondary Options ‘, Dr. Gary Williamson writes:

It is fairly clear that a gap exists between the text demand placed on students by high school textbooks and the text demands of reading materials likely to be encountered in various postsecondary options typically considered by students.  Regardless of whether a student aspires to postsecondary education, a job, the military, or just to be an informed citizen, the reading ability required is likely to be higher than what is typically required in high school based on texts that are widely used in this country.

This finding is consistent with much of the extant literature about readiness for postsecondary options, but it gives new insight to the possible response to the situation.  This report calls for a more systematic effort to identify and quantify the reading ability gap and the text demand gap in terms of a metric for both ability and textual difficulty.  The advantage would be more meaningful measurement of reading ability in light of text demands and findings that are more conducive to instructional interventions and policy actions.

The Lexile Framework for Reading allows educators to bridge that gap: first, by identifying both the reading demands of the reading material and the reading ability of the student, and second, by allowing educators to appropriately target students based on reading level.  By matching reading ability to text level, educators allow students to be challenged and grow as readers.  With enough targeting many students may be able to avoid remediation and embrace the fruitful challenges of college and career.

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