The Wednesday, August 17 2011 edition of the Chicago Sun Times headline reads, “Illinois ACT scores: 3 in 4 NOT READY FOR COLLEGE.” However, the folk in Illinois may take some consolation in the fact that the same is true of student performance in most other states.
In a recent posting regarding the concept of “Backwards Mapping” I referred to student performance on the 2010 ACT. Unfortunately, there was little improvement in student performance on the 2011 ACT. English and Reading performance remained unchanged, Math performance increased 2 percentage points and Science performance increased 1 percentage point.
- 66 percent of students were considered college-ready in English
- 52 percent of students were considered college-ready in Reading
- 45 percent of students were considered college-ready in Mathematics
- 30 percent of students were considered college-ready in Science
The huge differences in the level of college readiness by race continued to be disappointing:
- 41 percent of Asian students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- 31 percent of White students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- 15 percent of Pacific Islander students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- 11 percent of Native American students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- 11 percent of Hispanic students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- 4 percent of Black students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
Although student performance is bad, it is worst when considered within the context of student postsecondary expectations. Following are the percentages of students demonstrating college-readiness in all areas and the percentages of students with aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher:
- 41 percent of Asian students are college ready while 84 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
- 31 percent of White students are college ready while 85 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
- 15 percent of Pacific Islander students are college ready while 84 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
- 11 percent of Native American students are college ready while 78 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
- 11 percent of Hispanic students are college ready while 78 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
- 4 percent of Black students are college ready while 80 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
Clearly, something is wrong! How can so many students go through high school with aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher and so few students are graduating from high school ready for college? Either our high schools are out of touch with what will be required for their students to succeed in college, our teachers are teaching students less than what their subjects require for students to be ready for college, or our children are out of touch with how they should be applying themselves in their high school coursework so that they are ready for college (which is what they are claiming to want). Perhaps there is a perfect storm in which all of these are true?
Nevertheless, as I previously posted,
“If you are a parent of an elementary and middle school student, then you should get copies of the ACT and SAT sample tests. Ensure that your child is being introduced to the type of problem solving, language, vocabulary, and core content necessary to perform well on either the SAT or ACT. Compare what your child is expected to know on the tests with what he or she is learning in school. As more schools focus almost exclusively on preparing your child for grade-level and standardized tests, your child may be short changed when it comes to developing the broad range of critical thinking and reasoning skills that he or she will need to ensure that he or she is ready for college.”
I have long proposed the concept of “Backwards Mapping”—or starting with a future goal and working backwards. For example, students with a future career goal should be working backwards by identifying the level of education and type of training needed to pursue such a goal, students who may not have a particular career goal, but who have a goal of attending college should be identifying what will be required to be admitted to the type of college they are interested in attending (i.e., highly competitive, competitive, traditional, or open enrollment), what will be required to graduate from high school, what will be required in middle school to gain access to the level of high school course work that will best prepare students for college, and the type of elementary school experiences that will best assist a student in identifying the unique gifts and talents that may one day pave the way to a college scholarship.
Most elementary and middle school students with a goal of attending college will have to take either the SAT or ACT. I have always thought it odd, how little school districts have prepared such college-bound students for performing successfully on the SAT or ACT. In 2010, for all high school seniors taking the ACT (who were planning to go to college), only:
- 66 percent of students were considered college-ready in English
- 52 percent of students were considered college-ready in Reading
- 43 percent of students were considered college-ready in Mathematics
- 29 percent of students were considered college-ready in Science
There were also huge differences in the level of college readiness by race, with no racial group having over 50 percent of students being considered as college-ready:
- Only 39 percent of Asian students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- Only 30 percent of White students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- Only 12 percent of Native American students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- Only 11 percent of Hispanic students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- Only 4 percent of Black students (that is only 4 out of every 100 high school seniors) demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
The type of thinking, reasoning, writing, and vocabulary needed to perform successfully on the SAT and ACT should be part of every college-bound student’s elementary-through-high school growth and development. Recently, the state of North Carolina announced that it is considering requiring all 11th-graders to take the ACT. However, we do not need for all 11th-graders to take the ACT—we already know how few 11th-graders are college ready. We need to engage more elementary and middle school students in the type of learning that will ensure, that, as 11th-graders, they will be prepared to perform well on the ACT and SAT, because we have done a good job preparing them for college.
If you are the parent of an elementary and middle school student, then you should get copies of the ACT and SAT sample tests. Ensure that your child is being introduced to the type of problem solving, language, vocabulary, and core content necessary to perform well on either the SAT or ACT. Compare what your child is expected to know on the SAT and ACT with what he or she is learning in school. As more schools focus almost exclusively on preparing your child for grade-level and standardized tests, your child may be short changed when it comes to developing the broad range of critical thinking and reasoning skills that he or she will have to draw upon as an 11th-grader taking the SAT or ACT, and, as a college freshman preparing for the next phase of his or her academic development.
Marilyn Anderson Rhames, a science teacher at a charter school in Chicago, Il, shares extraordinary insight in her blog about how teachers oftentimes view their schools and the children whom they teach.
“I stumbled in onto life-changing conversation in the teacher’s lounge. The chatter was animated. A few teachers were reminiscing about their classroom horror stories at other schools: John dashed out of the classroom … Sarah threatened to jump out the window, again … Angel knocked over bookshelves in a fit of rage …. And in my desire to fit in and one-up the last tale, I began to share about the unbelievable dysfunction at my old school. Even though I hadn’t yet earned my teaching certificate, I felt like I had earned some stripes. I was persevering to educate the youth despite the insanity within the urban public school system. I was the heroine of the story, fearless and unafraid.
‘It happened to them,’ were the four words that shut me and the other teachers up. ‘It happened to them, not to you. You tell the stories like it’s some kind of entertainment, but it happened to them—the kids. They are the ones who 30 years from now will remember these stories with tears in their eyes.’
It was the middle school social studies teacher. He was a demur white man in his late 30s who often wore cardigans like Mr. Rogers. Until then he had kept silent, even as each story gave rise to a higher level of ridiculousness. He went on to explain that he, too, used to complain and feel like the victim until another teacher rebuked him with those words. He felt compelled to pass that wisdom on.”
This truth has haunted me for the past eight years I’ve been teaching. I am only glad that I got set straight early in my teaching career. Some teachers never seem to get it. You know this when their debates about education reform are centered around teacher rights, and not student rights. Teachers’ needs are important—I have a mortgage; I have a family; I would like to retire one day—but they are not the core issue. The mission is bigger than us. Educators and policymakers must boil the chatter down to two essential questions: To what degree will this policy enhance student learning and how will we know?
In two Stanford University studies, researchers have demonstrated how important split-second processing of sounds is to speaking and reading. Researchers have learned that mastering a musical instrument improves the way the human brain processes parts of spoken language. Research findings indicate that:
- People with musical experience found it easier than non-musicians to detect small differences in word syllables
- They also noted that musical training helps the brain work more efficiently in distinguishing differences between rapidly changing sounds that are essential to processing language
- Musical training increases perception of sound pitches and verbal memory
Potential applications of the research are:
- Improving speech processing in children stuggling with language and reading skills
- Assisting seniors experiencing a decline in speech perception and verbal memory skills
- Assisting people learning a second language
- Improving the acoustic and phonetic skills needed for learning language and reading
The National Association for Music Education notes a broad range of benefits to students who have access to music education:
- Secondary students who participated in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs)
- Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as a valuable experience that broadens students’ understanding and appreciation of the world around them
- Schools with music programs have significantly higher graduation rates than do those without programs (90.2 percent as compared to 72.9 percent)
- Students in high-quality school music programs score higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs
- Students of music outperform non-arts students on the SAT
- Nearly 100 percent of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology (for high school students) play one or more musical instruments
- Children in music training had significantly better verbal memory than students without such training
- Young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year
- Playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem’s sensitivity to speech sounds
Unfortunately, current educational policy contributes to widening the achievement and college enrollment gaps between our children. Children from low-performing and low-income communities have less access to musical training, and instead attend schools oftentimes focused almost exclusively on raising test scores. In contrast, children from upper income communities, or who attend high-performing schools, are exposed to a broad range of vocal and instrumental music training. Subsequently, such children, through enhanced musical exposure, develop the cognitive, verbal, and memory skills that enable them to achieve higher test scores without having a specific focus on increasing test scores. Their resulting higher test scores, higher academic skills, and broader cultural and artistic exposure significantly expand their college and career options.
Our younger son has enjoyed learning to play the piano and guitar, although he did not begin formal lessons until the ninth grade for guitar and the tenth grade for piano. His tenth grade piano recital of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17 in D minor Movement 3 “Tempest,” is a wonderful example of that adage, “It’s never too late.”
For those parents and students who find themselves stuck in low-performing schools or in schools with limited access to music programs, consider exploring opportunities through the music ministry at local faith organizations, after school programs, and summer camps.
Parents and students need to stop blindly going through K-12 education without doing the necessary research to identify the most appropriate colleges and careers. Whether or not students attend good high schools with well-informed counselors, the information is only a mouse click away:
- The U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center serves as a valuable resource to compare tuition costs and the net prices of college
- The U.S. Department of Education College Navigator provides detailed information on all U.S. colleges and universities (including admissions, costs, graduation rates, and student demographics)
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook provides information on hundreds of types of jobs and the job markets in each State
- The Federal Student Aid website provides links to a broad range of websites to assist students in preparing for their education
Get connected and get informed!
The American Youth Policy Forum paper, “Key Considerations for Serving Disconnected Youth” outlines the type of strategies needed to reach youth who have become “disconnected” from both education and productive employment. The report indicates that in the U.S., 3 out of every 10 students fail to earn a high school diploma and that 5.3 million 15-24 year-olds (16.4 percent of all such youth) are disconnected from both education and the work place at any given point in time. For youth from low-income households, 56 percent are among disconnected youth.
The paper suggests three important strategic approaches:
- Use data to better understand how to engage disconnected youth in matching educational outcomes and postsecondary plans to their needs
- Ensure that educational pathways are relevant to career options, academically rigorous, and adaptive to student needs
- Build cross-sector collaboration and partnerships to develop the services and support that such youth need
Our foundation, which has long recognized such needs and pursued such strategies, has learned that so many youth remain disconnected due to the refusal of schools and school districts to support such strategies.
Kymberly Wimberly, a teen mother and black student at Arkansas’ McGhee High School, had the highest overall GPA, after taking a rigorous course schedule, and was named her class valedictorian. In her complaint, Kymberly asserts that the school district denied her right to be the school’s lone valedictorian, as they had historically denied access to the type of classes that would qualify black students for such an honor. In a school that is 45 percent African-American, Kymberly recalls being the only African-American student in her AP literature class and only one of two in AP Calculus. However, a Washington Post article asserts that the school’s principal, Darrell Thompson, decided to name a white student with a lower GPA as the co-valedictorian. Superintendent of schools, Thomas Gathen, denies that the decision was racial motivated, however, the lawyer for Ms. Wimberly, alleges:
“[The] defendant’s actions were part of a pattern and practice of school administrators and personnel treating the African-American students less favorably than the Caucasian ones…Until Wimberly, the last African-American valedictorian in the McGeeHee school district was in 1989.”
The complaint also alleges:
“ ‘African-American students were not encouraged to take Honors or Advanced Placement classes,’ the complaint says. ‘Caucasian students had to almost opt out (of advanced classes).’”
An undeniable reality of schools is the institutional culture of each campus and school district. Whether that culture fosters a culture of cheating as we have seen through such examples as the recent Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal or the longstanding practice of denying students access to advanced coursework. In many school districts, African-American and Hispanic parents are well aware of the inequities in honors and AP course enrollment, Gifted and Talented Placement, and admission to top performing and magnet schools within their school district.
Successful college planning demands that parents and students recognize school culture, identify inequities, and fight for their rights to access that classes, student organizations, clubs, enrichment opportunities, and course work needed to ensure a high quality education. So, too, must students recognize their role in taking advantage of the opportunities, when available, and putting forth the necessary effort to break down stereotypes and rise to the ranks of top students. Congratulations to Kymberly Wimberly for taking a stand. Many other students, most of whom she will never know, will benefit from her courage.
A recent Birmingham News article, “Third of college-bound graduates in Alabama need remedial classes,” notes that over 50 percent of graduating seniors from 223 or Alabama’s 357 high schools needed to take remedial college classes in math or English. These results are consistent with Alabama’s 2010 ACT results, which indicated that the following percentage of Alabama’s high school seniors failed to demonstrate college readiness:
- 34 percent failed to demonstrate college readiness in English
- 69 percent failed to demonstrate college readiness in Math
- 53 percent failed to demonstrate college readiness in Reading
- 77 percent failed to demonstrate college readiness in Science
Parents must realize that they have an important role in ensuring that their children are taking the appropriate high school classes. Nationally, there are huge differences in the college readiness of students based on their high school course taking.
- Only 7 percent of students who take less than the their high school core classes in math are college ready
- Only 13 percent of students who take their high school core classes in math are college ready, and
- 55 percent of students who take math classes beyond their high school core classes in math are college ready
A longstanding popular myth among high school students and their parents is the importance of focusing on GPAs as opposed to focusing on course taking—i.e., taking easier classes to get high grades as opposed to risking lower grades in more rigorous classes. Clearly, it is a case of, “Pay me know or pay me later.” Failure to enroll in rigorous high school classes can cost students thousands of dollars in tuition for remedial college classes, limit a student’s college options, significantly reduce a student’s access to college scholarship opportunities, result in lower SAT and ACT scores, and substantially reduce the likelihood of a student graduating from college.
Pay attention to your high school schedule!
TheCall Me MISTER program (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models), founded and hosted at Clemson University, is a national teacher leadership program whose purpose is to prepare students for careers as elementary school teachers. Cultivating servant leaders is a primary goal of the program and increasing the number of African-American male teachers is an important initiative of the program. Graduates are expected to have an impact by returning to critical need schools and communities to pursue their professional careers. It is expected that students who complete their program of study will become certified to teach and will assume a teaching position in a public school and teach one year for each year they received financial support from the Call Me MISTER program.
The projects provides:
- Book allowances
- Tuition assistance through loan forgiveness ($5,000 – $7,00 annually)
- Academic support
- Social and cultural support
Partner schools are located in South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They include major universities, HBCUs, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges.
Anderson University • Benedict College • Claflin University • Clemson University • College of Charleston • Coastal Carolina University • Greenville Technical College • Midlands Technical College • Morris College • South Carolina State University • Tri-County Technical College • Trident Technical College • University of South Carolina – Beaufort • The North East Florida Educational Consortium – NEFEC • Eastern Kentucky University • Metropolitan Community College • Cheyney University • Longwood University
Contact any of the partner schools to learn more about admission requirements, scholarships, book allowances, loan forgiveness, and how your education can make a difference in the educational journeys of others.
In a previous post, I wrote about the financial risks of choosing the wrong college. I noted recent research that shed light on the low graduation rates and huge loan debt that students risk when attending for-profit colleges. Attorney General Jack Conway of Kentucky has initiated a lawsuit against for-profit college, Daymar College, alleging that the school overcharged students for textbooks and mislead students about financial aid and credit hours. There are seven for-profit colleges under investigation for aggressive recruiting, high tuition, low rates of job placement, and misleading students about financial aid.
The suit further alleges that students were misled regarding their ability to transfer credits to other colleges and Daymar enrolled students who failed to meet its own admissions standards. Enrolling students is big business for for-profit colleges. During the 2009/10 school year, Daymar received over $11 million in federal Pell Grants, while having the second highest student default rate among Kentucky-based schools.