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Are High Schools Seriously Misleading Our Students? Update

I have been writing about education and computers in education for a very long time. Some of what I have written may now be of historical value, and quite a bit of that is available free on the Web.

From time to time, when I am in a reminiscing mood, I read some of my old articles, editorials, and blog entries. I reflect on what has changed in the ensuing years.

I have decided to capture some of these reflections and changes as IAE Blog entries, with a focus on articles that identify an important, long-lasting issue.

I will title the new entries with the original article title followed by the word “Update.” For example, see the title of this IAE Blog entry. It is an update of Are High Schools Seriously Misleading Our Students? (Moursund, 8/22/2010).

Are We Misleading Our Students?

Here is a slightly edited version of the first part of the (nearly) 4 ½ year old IAE Blog entry that I am updating:

Well over half of U.S. students graduating from high school have expectations of going on to college. Many of these students are grossly under-prepared to meet college standards.

Quoting from The Wall Street Journal:

New data show that fewer than 25% of 2010 graduates who took the ACT college-entrance exam possessed the academic skills necessary to pass entry-level courses, despite modest gains in college-readiness among U.S high-school students in the last few years (Banchero, 8/18/2010).

How can it be that so many college-oriented students take and pass high school courses that they are led to believe are preparing them for college, and yet these students are not prepared for college?

I believe that we are doing our students a terrible disservice. We should be making a considerably greater effort to help students understand the quality of precollege education they are obtaining, and how well it is preparing them for likely futures they will encounter in their first few years after leaving high school.

My question today is, “How have we been doing in improving this situation in the past few years?”

Increasing High School Graduation Rates

The 2011 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative included a strong emphasis on increasing the percentage of students graduating from high school. Many states applied for and received waivers on some of the original requirements in NCLB. However, they still had to address the goal of increasing high school graduation rates (Armario, 2/13/2013).

The data is encouraging. Quoting from (Kardish, 4/28/2014):

The data reveal striking patterns in high school graduation rates between 1970 and 2010 (see Figure 1). After increasing rapidly for most of the 20th century, the high school graduation rate peaked at about 80 percent around 1970. During the subsequent 30 years, the graduation rate stagnated or fell slightly. The estimated status completion rate in 2000 for 20- to 24-year-olds in the United States, excluding recent immigrants, was 77.6 percent.

The U.S. high school graduation rate has [based on the 2012-2013 year] reached 80 percent for the first time ever and is on track to reach a long-sought goal of 90 percent by 2020, according to newly released federal data and a report from a coalition of groups focused on boosting graduation rates.

Quoting from Ed Homeroom (2014):

This is the third year that states are using a common method, called the adjusted cohort graduation rate, to calculate four-year high school graduation rates. The new data, for the 2012-13 school year, indicate that 18 states have graduation rates at or above 85 percent, up from 16 states in the 2011-12 school year and nine in 2010-2011. This progress is a tribute to the tireless efforts of teachers, principals, parents, and other educators and staff, and of the students themselves. This progress is consistent with the announcement this year that the nation’s overall graduation rate has hit 80 percent—the highest in our history.

Improving College Readiness of High School Graduates

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) has published a report on college readiness (ECS, October, 2014). The purpose and scope of the report is captured in the following quote:

The Blueprint is designed to serve as a framework to help K-12 and higher education leaders conceptualize the multitude of education reform efforts underway in their states. It’s based on the premise that K-12 and postsecondary collaboration is essential to building an aligned education pipeline and improving student outcomes.

The framework unites two driving forces in state and federal policymaking: 1) to improve the college and career readiness of graduating high school students and 2) to decrease remedial education and improve the rate of students who earn a degree or credential.

Each state has considerable control over its own educational system. However, our country needs an educational system that serves students well as their parents move across state lines looking for employment or to better their lives. In addition, many high school graduates attend out-of-state colleges and universities. Thus, it is not surprising that the Common Core State Standards and their accompanying student assessments have been developed. At the current time, both the standards and the assessment are under attack from a variety of advocacy groups. However, the same ECS report states:

High college remediation rates, coupled with business leaders’ concerns about the poor skills of young people entering the workforce, suggest many K-12 students are not exposed to the English language arts and math content they need. In response, 48 states and the District of Columbia have adopted either the Common Core State Standards or similarly rigorous academic content standards.

The desire of stakeholder groups for “higher standards” and for “higher graduation rates” has created an interesting problem. If the standards are too high, fewer students will graduate. If the standards are too low, many of the graduates will not be ready for college. This was a well-known problem when I wrote the 2010 IAE Blog entry being discussed here. This situation is discussed in a Southern Region Education Board report (SREB, June, 2010).

Despite competing pressures to ensure that all high school graduates are college ready, states have found it politically difficult to set high school exit exams at higher levels. It is no surprise, then, that many students who earn a high school diploma and pass the exit exams are far from being college ready.

State leaders are familiar with this high school diploma-college readiness gap. Many have observed or participated in debates concerning how high to set the bar for passing high-stakes tests such as exit exams, and they understand that establishing proficiency at 9th or 10th grade levels assures that students can graduate from high school without college-level skills. In fact, there are powerful voices in many states that assert that a high school diploma need not indicate college readiness.

The ACT (originally an abbreviation for American College Test) is a reasonably good measure of college readiness. ACT defines “college readiness” in a subject area to mean a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in a typical first-year college (non-remedial) course.

The ACT is taken by many precollege students who have expressed an intention of going to college, and it covers English, math, reading, and science. Quoting from Emma Brown and Lynh Bui (8/21/013):

Just more than one-quarter of students who took the ACT college entrance exam this year scored high enough in English math, reading, science to be considered ready for college or a career, data released Wednesday showed.

Overall performance on the ACT has remained virtually unchanged since 2009, with the average score falling slightly this year, from 21.1 to 20.9 out of a possible 36 points. The stagnation raises questions about how well schools are preparing students for future success.

Final Remarks

Perhaps more so than ever before, our country today is addressing its educational needs. Changes are in the works, yet most (if not all) of the proposed changes related to standards appear to be very controversial. We have a long way to go, and we have a moving target. I am reminded of the quote:

"If you want to make enemies, try to change something." (Thomas Woodrow Wilson; 28th President of the United States; 1856-1924.)

From my point of view, it appears that many of the leaders in the school reform movement have limited knowledge and understanding of the capabilities of computers, both as teaching machines and as aids to solving many of the problems and accomplishing many of the tasks that students are currently studying in school. A good education includes becoming skilled in learning from available electronic and traditional aids to learning and becoming skilled at working with computers to solve problems and accomplish tasks. See some of my writings on these topics in Moursund (2015), (September, 2014a), and (September, 2014b).

What You Can Do

Become an active participant in the educational improvement movement. Don’t let the major decisions be made by people who know far less than you do about teaching and helping students to learn.

References

Armario, C. (2/13/2013). NCLB waivers weaken graduation rate accountability: Alliance for excellent education study. Huff Post. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/13/nclb-waivers-study_n_2677692.html.

Banchero, S. (8/18/2010). Scores stagnate at high school. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1/31/2015 from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703824304575435831555726858.

Brown, E., & Bui, L. (8/21/2013). Just 26 percent of ACT test-takers are prepared for college. The Washington Post. Retrieved 1/31/2015 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/just-26-percent-of-act-test-takers-are-prepared-for-college/2013/08/21/a99fba0e-0a81-11e3-8974-f97ab3b3c677_story.html.

ECS (October, 2014). Blueprint for college readiness. Education Commission of the States. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://www.ecs.org/docs/ECSBlueprint.pdf.

Ed Homeroom (2014). More states with high graduation rates. The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://www.ed.gov/blog/2014/11/more-states-with-high-graduation-rates/.

Kardish, C. (4/28/2014). U.S. high school graduation rate hits historic high. Governing the States and Localities. Retrieved 1/31/2015 from http://www.governing.com/news/headlines/gov-us-high-school-graduation-rate-hits-historic-high.html.

Moursund, D. (2015). Two brains are better than one. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://iae-pedia.org/Two_Brains_Are_Better_Than_One.

Moursund, D. (September, 2014a). Education for students' futures. Part 15: The future of teaching machines. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2014-146.html.

Moursund, D. (September, 2014b). Education for students' futures. Part 14: The future of teaching machines. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2014-145.html.

Moursund, D. (8/22/2010). Are high schools seriously misleading our students? IAE Blog. Retrieved 1/31/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/are-high-schools-seriously-misleading-our-students.html.

SREB (June, 2010). Improving college readiness through coherent state policy. National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and the Southern Regional Education Board. Retrieved 1/31/2015 from http://www.highereducation.org/reports/college_readiness/CollegeReadiness.pdf.

Suggested Readings from IAE Publications

Moursund, D. (2015). Computational thinking. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking.

Moursund, D. (March, 2014). Education for students’ futures. Part 2: Self-assessment can help students to become more responsible for their own education. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2014-133.html.

Moursund, D. (9/15/2010). A questionable approach to improving education by failing more students. IAE Blog. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/a-questionable-approach-to-improving-education-by-failing-more-students.html

Moursund, D. (August, 2009). Desires for immediate gratification hinder improving education. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 2/1/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2009-24.html.

Moursund, D., & Sylwester, R., eds. (2013). Common Core State Standards for K-12 education in America. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/249-common-core-state-standards-for-k-12-education-in-america-1.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/248-common-core-state-standards-for-k-12-education-in-america.html.

Two Ancient/Modern Educational Problems
High School Mathematics Standards
 

Comments

David Moursund (website) on Monday, 02 February 2015 19:55
Please suggest IAE documents that you would like to see updated

What is most helpful is if you select one or two articles, include their Web addresses, and provide specific suggestions and related sources of information.

What is most helpful is if you select one or two articles, include their Web addresses, and provide specific suggestions and related sources of information.
David Moursund (website) on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 03:43
Comment from Dev Sinha, Department of Mathematics, University of Oregon

Looking at this, I just wanted to chime in that as I see it, it would be good if high schools could pay attention to (and maybe assess for and “certify”) three levels of [math] proficiency: STEM ready, college-career ready, and adult-life (? or citizenship?) ready(??).

The first would roughly correspond to being likely able to succeed in a college calculus class as well as apply high-school math as needed in say chemistry.

The second would roughly correspond to being likely to succeed in a college algebra class as well as apply early-HS math as needed in say basic economics.

The third would be what is needed to graduate, and would involve some basic algebra and statistics skills along with the ability to fluently navigate and apply arithmetic. It doesn’t have a good name, but is what is referred to when the high-school diploma is discussed below.

Looking at this, I just wanted to chime in that as I see it, it would be good if high schools could pay attention to (and maybe assess for and “certify”) three levels of [math] proficiency: STEM ready, college-career ready, and adult-life (? or citizenship?) ready(??). The first would roughly correspond to being likely able to succeed in a college calculus class as well as apply high-school math as needed in say chemistry. The second would roughly correspond to being likely to succeed in a college algebra class as well as apply early-HS math as needed in say basic economics. The third would be what is needed to graduate, and would involve some basic algebra and statistics skills along with the ability to fluently navigate and apply arithmetic. It doesn’t have a good name, but is what is referred to when the high-school diploma is discussed below.
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