Are Public High School Students Fully Prepared for College?
New data show GPAs decline markedly with more and more students feeling out of their depth at university.
A Tribune analysis of data available to Illinois citizens for the first time raises fundamental questions about how well the state’s public high schools are preparing their students for college, write Diane Rado, Jodi S. Cohen and Joe Germuska at the Chicago Tribune.
The data shows these students struggle to get a B average as freshmen at the state’s universities and community colleges, even after leaving top-performing high schools with good grades.
“More and more students seem to be less prepared for college; particularly math and English skills are not where we would like them to be when they come to college,” said Chancellor Rita Cheng, at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
College and K-12 officials blame the performance declines on myriad factors, from inadequate high school preparation to high school grade inflation, newfound independence and increased partying away from home.
Morgan Park’s assistant principal, Remy Washington, only learned of the report Tuesday when contacted by the Tribune, and she immediately printed it out and distributed it to all guidance counselors.
“It is not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but it gives us something to work toward,” Washington said. “If we do a little more research, we can figure out where our students are falling short and work that into what we do here.”
Gery Chico, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, said that a C+ average as a freshman “is not a horrible thing,” pointing out that college-level work is more complicated than high school courses, and college instructors have a tougher grading system. As students adjust to college, they can improve their GPAs, he said.
Chico , however, also expressed concern about high school grading practices that inflate performance and give students the impression that they’re ready for college.
“I don’t believe you do anyone any favors by artificially boosting a grade. To do what? All that does is give (students) a false sense of security,” said Chico, who formerly served as president of the Chicago Public Schools board and chairman of the board of the City Colleges of Chicago.
Several university officials stressed the need for improvement.
“It is a national issue,” said April Hansen, director of postsecondary services at the ACT company, whose college entrance exam is taken annually by Illinois juniors as part of state testing.
“There is a real lack of alignment (between high school and college),” she said. “Kids aren’t necessarily ready for freshman-level classes.”
Following a state General Assembly resolution in 2007, ACT tracked college freshman performance in partnership with the key state agencies for K-12 and higher education: The Illinois Board of Higher Education, the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois State Board of Education.
Some educators to criticize the data as an incomplete picture as the reports rely on information from Illinois public high schools, community colleges and universities, so students who enrolled in out-of-state or private colleges are not included.
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