Are Your Students Prepared For College When They Get To Class?

By Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.

Are your students prepared for your class when they walk through your door?

I read an interesting article about the preparedness (or lack thereof) of many college students for what awaits them in higher education. The New York Times article tell us that “the new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009, not counting special-education students.”

Okay, but who decides what is “college-ready?” What is the standard of measure?

Asked and answered — sort of: “State and city education officals have known for years that graduating from a public high school does not indicate that a student is ready for college, and have been slowly moving to raise standards.”

But this begs several questions: Does raising standards correlate with college success? What exactly is “ready for college”? Does it depend on the course of study? The college? What is the scientific correlation between high school scores and college success? Can it even be measured – what about other factors such as maturity, motivation, personal situations, etc.?

So, I ask you: Are your students ready for college? Are they ready for your class in particular? Do you find any trends amongst successful students versus students who don’t seem “college-ready?”

Anecdotally, I’d like to note that some of the smartest people I know did not do well in high school. Additionally, many peers in college had average grades yet are now successful in their fields. I’m sure we all have friends like this who might have been late bloomers. So I argue that high school performance might not be the best indicator of college success (and some might argue that it hinders college success through teaching to the tests and not teaching critical thinking skills).

Is this article a surprise? Part of me wonders how prepared you can even be for college. I was successful in high school but there was still a very steep learning curve for the academic collegiate world. In the sink or swim environment of college, how ready can one be? Much like when you leave college for your first job, you might have the skills or knowledge but you still have to adjust and adapt to the new environment. How on the hook for this preparedness should high schools be? Upper level courses, with prerequisites, might show that students have mastered the previous material, but similarly to the argument above, it doesn’t always translate into success into your upper-level course.

I am a former elementary school teacher and I often worked with “school readiness” programs. In some ways it was the same mismatched formula. We would assess and work with preschoolers to get them ready for Kindergarten, but there were so many variables (parental involvement, home life, developmental readiness, maturity, etc.) that it was like Wack-A-Mole – focus on one area and another pops up. You can isolate some areas to work on, but there is no cut and dry formula for school readiness. I found these programs often were reactionary, vague, and one-size-fits all, and we know how successful that makes an educational initiative!

About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her roles as a wife and mother.

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