Posts published in May, 2009

Does College Ready=Career Ready?

  A major debate is growing about whether secondary students who want to attend technical colleges or work oriented programs in community colleges need the same academic preparation and college placement scores as students who go to four year colleges ,or intend to transfer there from community colleges. Some contend the academic standards should be identical for both groups. Others say the academic prep in high school should be different for students who want to pursue  postsecondary courses in welding or automotive repair. Achieve  Inc. is a national group led by business and Governors that contends there is a “strong convergence” in expectations of employers and colleges, so there should be no difference in standards. But I have never seen the conclusive evidence to support these statements, and wonder if a remediation placement cut score should be the same for all types of postsecondary aspirations. We need better  and more inclusive data from the technical trainers and employers before I will be convinced of equal demands for all types of occupational training and college 4 year degrees. For Achieve”s view see May Perspective Newsletter

Georgia Remediation in College Despite High Grades In High School

Easy grades equate to failing grads


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some metro Atlanta public high schools that don’t grade rigorously produce more graduates lacking the basic English and math skills needed for college, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.

Many graduates of those high schools are sent to freshmen remedial classes to learn what high school didn’t teach them. As many as a third or more college-bound graduates from some high schools need the extra instruction.

The AJC obtained data from the University System of Georgia and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement on the percentage of first-year college students, by high school, who took remedial courses in fall 2007, and the number that had lost HOPE scholarships over six years, beginning with 2002 freshmen. The newspaper looked only at HOPE retention for students enrolled in the same institution over time. The AJC also used state data to compare high school class grades with End of Course Tests. The data did not reflect individual student performance over time, but it showed that a significant portion of schools high in graduates needing college remediation were also high in measures suggesting grade inflation. Some data categories were missing for some schools.

Problems with classroom grading came to light in a February state study that showed some high schools regularly awarded good marks to students who failed state tests in the same subject.

The AJC found that metro high schools where classroom grading appeared lax or out-of-step with state standards tended to have higher rates of students who took remedial classes. And at dozens of high schools, most graduates who received the B average needed for a state HOPE scholarship lost it in college after a few years.

Unprepared high-school graduates are a growing problem for the public university system, where remedial students are concentrated in two-year colleges.

Statewide, the remedial rate has climbed to 1 in 4 first-year students after dropping in the 1990s, said Chancellor Erroll Davis Jr. of the University System of Georgia. The cost to the system: $25 million a year.

Students such as Brandon Curry, 20, a graduate of Redan High in DeKalb County, said they were surprised to learn decent high school grades don’t always translate into college success.

“English was my strongest subject,” he said after a remedial reading class earlier this spring at Georgia Perimeter College in Clarkston. “But when I came to college, I was like, ‘Whoa.’

“I’m on this level,” he said, motioning to about knee-level. “And I’m supposed to be up here,” he said, raising his hand above his chest.

In some cases, students wrestle with basic reading comprehension, said Karen Duncan, an assistant reading professor at Perimeter.

“It’s abysmal,” she said. “We’ve got students in there who may be on the fifth- or sixth-grade level.”

The newspaper analyzed the most recent data available on graduates from 12 metro Atlanta districts who attended public colleges. The AJC compared the percentage of schools’ college-bound graduates who took remedial classes, the number that lost their HOPE scholarship, and the state study suggesting some high schools could be inflating classroom grades.

The data showed:

» For 30 of 103 metro Atlanta high schools, more than 1 in 3 of their graduates took remedial classes as freshmen in the 2007-2008 school year. At seven of those schools, at least half did.

» At 44 metro high schools, half or more HOPE scholars who began college in 2002 and remained enrolled lost the grant within four years. At a dozen of those schools, 70 percent or more did.

» In one district, Atlanta, 86 percent of the more than 200 students who entered the state’s two-year colleges in the fall of 2007 needed remedial classes. Within that group, 29 of 37 HOPE scholars needed remedial help.

However clear the problem may be to college professors, it is not one most educators in local school systems are eager to talk about. And the question of who is responsible leads to more than one answer. The classroom teacher, the principal and the school district are all under pressure to tout student successes, not failures. State education and university system officials have a role, too, yet it can be far removed from individual classrooms.

State School Superintendent Kathy Cox said Georgia is making policy changes that demand more from high school students. But she said it could be several more years before the rate of students who need remedial help falls. “For too long, we’ve kowtowed to the low expectations,” she said.

An overhaul of high school curriculum, more accountability, and changes in graduation requirements and high school course options should improve college performance, Cox said. She declined to specify when the state would be able to assess whether its reforms, which have been phased in since 2005, had succeeded.

Spokesmen for the Atlanta and DeKalb school districts issued written statements in response to questions from the newspaper about their remedial rates, which were the highest in metro Atlanta.

In an e-mail, DeKalb spokesman Dale Davis said the district encourages all schools to teach and grade rigorously. Teachers are supposed to teach the state standards and use benchmark tests to check whether students are learning what they should.

Atlanta spokesman Joe Manguno said the district believes changes it has made, such as creating smaller schools within schools and improving instruction, will over time help students perform better.

A spokesman for Clayton County, whose rate was also high, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Principals at 10 high schools with high remedial rates either did not return a phone call or referred questions to a district spokesman.

Ultimately, high schools are responsible for monitoring how their graduates do after leaving, said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in California. But to prepare students well, he said, schools need guidance from colleges and solid teacher training programs.

“It’s a little bit of everybody that’s responsible,” he said. “It doesn’t mean no one’s accountable, but it means you have to break it up into pieces and figure out where the system is breaking down.”

Educators in other states are also struggling to raise high school standards to meet college and career expectations in a world where the labor market demands increasing academic skills from job-seekers.

For Georgia, where SAT and ACT scores as well as college graduation rates trail the nation’s, the problem is pressing. Chancellor Davis said the university system’s success hinges on how well K-12 schools prepare their students.

Classroom grading grew controversial after the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement released its study this year showing a gap between high school students’ class grades and their scores on state standardized tests—known as End of Course Tests —in the same subject.

To some, the study suggested grade inflation remains a problem in certain high schools and school districts. Even with new reforms arriving each fall, some high school teachers complain about a culture they say discourages rigorous teaching and grading.

Several current teachers said they could not agree to have their name published along with their concerns because they feared for their jobs. Their complaints echoed recent blog posts and e-mails from other teachers.

They said that some schools bar teachers from giving “zeroes”—or even failing grades —for work never submitted, let students retake classes without penalty, and punish teachers who fail too many students. They said administrators pressure them to pass students who put little or no effort into learning because of fears that the students will drop out.

Dropouts pull down a schools’ graduation rate, one of the measures used to determine whether a school has met federal standards set out in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Ann Robinson, a former high school science teacher in Cobb and Paulding counties, said friends of hers who still teach told her they believe the federal law has forced them to lower standard

Teacher Education Enhances Disjuncture Between K-12 and Postsecondary Education

A constant theme of this blog has been the disjuncture between levels of education that causes secondary students to experience different academic standards  and expectations when they reach  broad access colleges. Students enter colleges not knowing about placement exams or what they need to do to be successful. For more on this theme see the Stanford Bridge project at

The disjunture beteen education levels has deep historical roots. One root is teacher preparation for K-12 where the linkage of teacher education programs and the K-12 sector has weakened over time. Elementary teachers were originally prepared in two-year postsecondary normal schools – normal meaning according to rule, model, or pattern. In 1910, there were 264 normal schools enrolling 132,000 students (Dunham, 1969). The next development was from a normal school for elementary teachers to a teachers college to prepare secondary teachers as well. These institutions were linked to K-12 schools, and interactions across K-16 levels were frequent.

But as demands for increasing higher education grew, teachers’ colleges expanded functions and enrollment become multipurpose state colleges, often governed like normal schools by K-12 state boards of education. This growth caused recruitment of arts and sciences professors who sought higher academic prestige. Education schools or departments were typically viewed by the colleges more diverse faculties as having low prestige. The final step was for the former normal college to become a university lacking close contact with K-12 teachers and students except those enrolled in the education school. As institutions of higher education – including teacher education programs themselves – detached from K-12, secondary school students increasingly failed to receive clear signals about college placement exams and about what first-year university students need to know in order to be prepared. Western Michigan University is an example of this institutional evolution. Founded in 1903 as a normal school, it became Western State Teachers College in 1927, Western Michigan College of Education in 1941, and then Western Michigan University in 1957 with 18,500 students in 1969 served by 900 faculty members. The first doctoral degrees were conferred in 1968.

Thus, many former normal schools have become broad-access institutions that typically admit all qualified applicants, but use placement tests for first year students to preserve standards. Secondary school students know that it is easy to get in, but know little about placement tests and curricular demand. An historical irony of this evolution is that postsecondary institutions established to prepare teachers to follow  k12 standards no longer communicate these k12 standards to teachers in enough depth..

Paper Provides Guidance For Research On College Transition

  Policy and discussion on the transition from secondary school to college has exploded in the last decade. But how can we figure out what works and why policy is growing across the states? A new paper by Michael McLendon at Vanderbilt and Donald Heller at Penn State is an outstanding review of much research to date. But their real objective is to provide concepts, data bases, and methods to understand policy diffusion and impact in the 50 states. This is the best compilation I have seen for scholars of state policy, and enumerates the needed data. But this kind of large scale research is difficult to implement as the authors stress.

 See Educational Policy, volume 23, No.2 , March 2009. On line at

High School Students Benefit From Early Warning Signals About Lack Of College Preparation

Much research has shown that students who aspire to broad access colleges lack signals about their high probability of ending up in remedial education in college. See our flagship publication- put Betraying The College Dream in Google. California State University created a grade 11 early assesment to let students know whether they would place into non remedial courses. It is called the Early Assessment Program -EAP , and is added questions to the statewide grade 11 assessments. In 2007, over 350,000 students elected to take EAP after they finished the state test. A recent evaluation by UC Davis and Cal State Professors shows that taking the test and getting early signals helps students in high school avoid college remediation.  For a copy of the paper email


Most, if not all, public secondary and postsecondary systems of education are badly misaligned (Kirst & Venezia, 2004). Standards for academic success vary both within and across sectors. This variation poses a significant challenge to students and policy makers, the consequence of which is a great deal of confusion and even ignorance among students about the academic demands of college. It is no wonder they are confused; among Sacramento State’s students requiring remediation in either math or English in 2007, the average GPA they earned in high school in the subject for which they needed remediation was just above a 3.1.Their high schools told them that they were successful B students, but their colleges told them that they were not ready to do college-level work. This troubling state of affairs is exacerbated by an ethos of college for all, with little regard to academic preparation. The EAP program is an intervention designed to improve the quality of information students have regarding the California State University’s standard for minimally acceptable levels of academic preparation in math and English. By providing this information to high school juniors, the architects of the EAP give students the opportunity to make more informed decisions about their secondary school curriculum and postsecondary pathways. The signaling value of ‘conditionally exempt’ may be especially powerful, as it provides a specific step forward, in addition to diagnostic information. Future research should explore whether student course taking in the senior year accounts for the relatively greater impact of the conditionally exempt signal on college application.


Postponing secondary school preparation to the postsecondary level is both controversial and costly. While critics raise important questions about the appropriateness

of colleges taking on the task of remediation, there is a dearth of empirical evidence on interventions that effectively reduce remedial course-taking, particularly at the less-selective four-year institutions where remediation rates are quite substantial. This research indicates that participation in the Early Assessment Program is predicted to lower a student’s probability of needing remediation by 6.2 percentage points in English and 4.3 percentage points in math when attending a typical campus in the CSU system. Moreover, our analysis of the mechanism by which EAP reduces remediation need rules out a simple sorting story. This suggest that the information about college readiness that EAP participants receive does not deter the students obtaining a “not college ready” signal from applying. Of course additional work on whether and how EAP is promoting students to take advantage of their 12th grade year to become college ready is needed to more fully evaluate the program’s intention.

Recent reports by the Government Accounting Office and the Spellings Commission call for more systematic research on the determinants of college attrition and time to degree. This research responds directly to their calls. Our study provides an evaluation of an early intervention program that may also improve college persistence and completion rates by reducing the need for remediation in college. With the EAP, California State University has articulated more directly to high school students what it takes to be college ready. Soon, the California Community College system will be following suit as a result of Senate Bill 946, passed by the California legislature this past September, expanding the EAP to students entering the state’s 110 community colleges.16

16 For additional information see the Legislative Analyst’s Office Report, Back to Basics: Improving College Readiness of Community College Students,

In 2007, nearly half of the 49,274 first-time freshmen entering the CSU system required remediation in English. Although not free to tax payers, the EAP program is much less costly to the state or the student than remediation, particularly when weighed against the benefits of making more informed education decisions following high school. Decreases in remediation need of the magnitude we find in this study may yield a substantial reduction of remediation for the CSU system—the equivalent of about 3,000 students in English and 2,000 in math. Research on college persistence has consistently demonstrated that students with better academic preparation in high school are more likely to complete college. In addition to improving the transition into college for large numbers of high school graduates, we believe this intervention has the capacity to ultimately increase students’ probability of successfully completing a baccalaureate degree.

To get the study contact Professor Michal Kurlaender at UC< >< ><-->