New York Moves Toward College Readiness

Last week, Sharon Otterman of the NY Times shared some unfortunate news :

New York State education officials released a new set of graduation statistics on Monday that show fewer than half of students in the state are leaving high school prepared for college and well-paying careers.

The new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated read for college or careers in 2009, not counting special-education students.  That is well under half the current graduation rate of 64 percent…

Those are troubling statistics.  Not only are NYC schools only graduating 2/3 of their students, but of those students, most are not prepared to enter the workforce, or successfully complete freshman level college courses.  Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents (the group that makes educational policy decisions for the state), says, “…if you sit on this, you become the Enron of test scores, the Enron of graduation rates.  We need to indicate exactly what it all means, especially since we’ve already said that college-ready should be the indicator of high school completion.”

Tisch and other members of the Board of Regents have already begun taking steps to remedy this situation.  Just last month the group announced new assessment standards they plan to implement in addition to their adoption last July of the national Common Core State Standards.   As we’ve mentioned before, the Common Core provides educators with valuable resources to help move students toward college and career readiness.  The Lexile Framework for Reading is one such tool which allows educators to place text demand and student reading ability on the same vertical scale.  This provides an opportunity to not only measure individual growth, but also defines how much growth is required for an individual to be prepared to meet post-secondary demands.  Kudos to New York for taking action to move their students toward college and career readiness.

Traversing the Texts: An Appreciation of Text Complexity

Here’s Mark Bauerlein over at Education Leadership offering a useful reminder on the importance of the ability to tackle complex texts:

Will more technology in high school classrooms help? Not in the crucial area of reading. When teachers fill the syllabus with digital texts, having students read and write blogs, wikis, Facebook pages, multimedia assemblages, and the like, they do little to address the primary reason that so many students end up not ready for college-level reading. When they assign traditional texts—novels, speeches, science articles, and so on—in digital format with embedded links, hypertext, word-search capability, and other aids, they likewise avoid the primary cause of unreadiness.

That cause is, precisely, the inability to grasp complex texts…

Bauerlein’s concern is that many of the post-secondary texts with which students must wrestle are inherently ambiguous, e.g. a supreme court decision, a poem, a philosophical treatise, a contract, etc…  Their meanings are best  teased out through a deep and reflective reading.  In addition to being constructively ambiguous, many of the texts with which students must struggle (think Emerson, Nietzsche, Holmes, Freud, etc…) are not capable of being reduced to a few simple pages or bullet points (to paraphrase one philosopher, any system of thought capable of being reduced to a nutshell belongs there…).  Many of our most cherished texts and documents are  expansive, self-contained works, rich in meaning and related to a long canon of work.  As Bauerlein argues, Thoreau’s assertion that he went into the woods because he wished to live deliberately or Nietzsche’s assertions about claims of knowledge are not easily grasped by reading over the first few pages.  The reader is expected to critically reflect over the pages and to locate the writer’s meaning in the fuller context of the writing:

When faced with a U.S. Supreme Court decision, an epic poem, or an ethical treatise—works characterized by dense meanings, elaborate structure, sophisticated vocabulary, and subtle authorial intentions—college-ready students plod through them. Unready students falter.

This is the sort of task that does not lend itself to distraction.  To paraphrase Bauerlein, a reader trekking through Locke’s political treatises is unlikely to make it very far if they are simultaneously updating their Facebook status, tweeting their latest thought, popping up a blog entry, streaming Pandora, and clicking on hyperlinks through the margins.  For this is not the sort of reading that lends itself to browsers.  Many of our most valuable and cherished texts, the ones most worth reading, reveal their import through a focused and deep absorption into the text.

That’s not to minimize the importance of technology in the classroom or the important role that personalized learning platforms can play in differentiating texts for struggling readers.  And Bauerlein is careful to avoid nostalgic claims about the destructive influence of online reading or the Internet destroying our mental capacities.  Instead, he merely suggests that more attention should be paid to deep and meaningful reading, to the undistracted and focused reading of high level texts; and that time should be set aside to allow students to explore these sophisticated texts in a distraction-free (meaning, unplugged) zone.

In that sense, Bauerlein’s concern echoes what both the Common Core State Standards and a study by Nell Duke have already pointed to: that American students are reading far too little informational texts.  As we’ve written before, for a student raised on a diet of fiction, a strong dose of informational texts may come as a shock to the system.  It’s little wonder then that many students graduate unprepared for the rigors of the post-secondary world, that they arrive at the university only to find that even introductory texts present a formidable challenge.   Nell Duke argues that students should be exposed to informational texts at an earlier age and the Common Core State Standards attempts to address that deficiency by pushing for increased exposure to informational texts at a higher rate and at an earlier age.

 Bauerlein’s suggestion is worth considering.  With far too many students finding themselves ill-prepared for the rigors of the post-secondary world, it’s our hope that encouraging students to tackle higher levels of targeted texts at an earlier age will move them ever closer to the levels of texts they will undoubtedly encounter in life after high school.

Forging A Path Toward College & Career Readiness

Much has already been written on the dangers of graduating unprepared to face the reading demands now found throughout universities and the workplace. There’s been ample research demonstrating that many of today’s high school seniors are graduating ill-prepared to tackle the rigors of the post-secondary world .  Even those students who qualify as ‘proficient’ within the boundaries of their own state find that proficiency does not necessarily entail readiness for the reading demands of life after graduation.  Declining levels of text complexity at the high school level translate into less rigor and many students are unfamiliar with richer, more complex texts,  which is why so many universities have witnessed an increase in the number of freshmen enrolled in remedial, first-year courses. 

Fortunately, the Common Core State Standards Initiative offers a clear trajectory toward college and career readiness, though a recent report from ACT shows just how much work many states have to do to place their students on a track toward college and career readiness.  A sample of 250,000 high school juniors, for example, found that the students were unprepared for the standards proposed by the Common Core.  Within English/Language Arts, only 38 percent were proficient in reading and a little more than half were proficient in writing and in language. Students were especially weak in science literacy and only 37 percent showed proficiency in statistics and probability. The weakest area in math was number and quantity.   The ACT report goes further than just analysis, however, and offers some suggestions on how states, districts, and schools can support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  

Another recently released study, REL Southwest’s How Prepared are Students for College-Level Reading? Applying a Lexile®-Based Approach, offers a real-world perspective for measuring the effectiveness of preparing students for post-secondary success. Using The Lexile Framework for Reading, the study matched student scores on an exit-level Texas English language arts and reading assessment with college English textbooks to gauge students’ ability to read and comprehend the books used in entry-level English courses throughout the University of Texas system: (more…)

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.