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Education Reporter

College Freshmen Arenít Ready, Professors Say

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In a recent survey, college professors said consistently that incoming freshmen are unprepared for college-level work. The survey also reveals that high school and postsecondary teachers disagree on what students should learn before starting college. 35,665 middle school, high school and postsecondary teachers participated in the survey administered by the educational assessment and research organization ACT.

"A mile wide and an inch deep" could summarize college instructors' opinion of current high school curriculum. They would rather see high schools focus on a smaller subset of topics - those colleges care the most about - and cover them in more depth.

For example, in English instruction, college professors care more than high school teachers about basic grammar and usage. They want students to master basic language skills in high school. Then they can use those skills in college instead of having to learn them for the first time. High school teachers, on the other hand, ascribe greater importance to topics like idea development and rhetoric than to the mechanics of writing.

In both math and science, college instructors want freshmen to enter college with a sound grasp of fundamental skills and principles. High school instructors instead value exposing students to a broad range of content topics. College instructors seem to prefer that freshmen grasp essential, underlying principles in math and science, even if it means they haven't been exposed to as many topics in each subject area.

The study surveyed teachers of reading at all levels. High school students spend little time after 9th grade improving their reading skills or working on their ability to understand complex texts. Remedial-course teachers in colleges rate reading skills and strategies very highly for their importance to college students. They also say they spend much of their remediation time teaching these skills. ACT therefore recommends that high schools teach advanced reading skills in all subject areas throughout high school.

ACT has conducted similar surveys over the past three decades, and has consistently found major differences between what high school and postsecondary instructors think about secondary-level skills.

In this study, teachers at the two levels expressed different opinions about state standards. About 74% of high school teachers thought their state's standards prepared students well for college-level work in their subject areas. Only about 36% of college professors agreed. ACT thinks states will benefit from involving colleges in the setting of state standards. The president of ACT's education division says that over 30 states are already taking some steps to align standards with college and business expectations for high school graduates.

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