Once again, higher education and K-12 officials try to align standards.
WASHINGTON — A group of 18 higher education leaders, most of whom are university system chancellors and presidents, joined with 10 state school superintendents last month to pledge that they will each do their part to ensure that all high school students are prepared for college-level work.
In a statement titled, “With Renewed Hope — and Determination,” the higher education and K-12 leaders said: “Our nation is not longer well served by an education system that prepares a few to attend college to develop their minds for learned pursuits while the rest are expected only to build their muscles for useful labor. In the 21st century, all students must meet higher achievement standards in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools and thus be better prepared to meet the challenges of work and citizenship.”
The higher education leaders who signed their names to the statement (see Pledge, next page) hail from the West Coast to the East Coast, with several large systems in between. Along with their K-12 counterparts, they identified four commitments that will be necessary to make their goal achievable:
n All high school graduates must meet high standards.
n School systems will hire only teachers who can bring all students to high standards.
n Colleges and universities will accept only students who meet high standards.
n Colleges and universities will ensure that all teacher candidates are prepared to bring student performance to high standards.
By outlining those goals — two of which are primarily the responsibility of higher education and two of which are the responsibility of K-12 systems — the signatories say they recognize the “inseparable connections among the elementary, secondary and post-secondary sectors of the education system.”
Among other things, the signatories call for all students to be placed in a competitive curriculum aligned with the standards for admission and placement in college.
Some of the signatories represent states that are fairly far along in aligning those standards. In Maryland, for example, Dr. Donald Langenberg, chancellor of the University of Maryland System, and Dr. Nancy Grasmick, state school superintendent, have said that within a few years the standards for high school graduation and university admission and placement will match. They have already aligned the course descriptions and requirements of community college and four-year courses in the core academic areas, for example.
However, the high school/college requirements remain misaligned. For example, Algebra II is not required for high school graduation, and many K-12 leaders publicly dispute that it should be. Yet, the covered material in that course is required before students qualify to take college-level mathematics in almost all public colleges. The result of this mismatch is that as many as half the students who go on to Maryland public colleges need remediation in mathematics.
“That is one of the great divides between us and them,” Langenberg says in a phone interview. “College faculty know that Algebra II is necessary to be able to do college math.”
When asked if he thought that requiring high school students to complete Algebra II would strain the resources of K-12 systems, Langeberg says, “A lot of things that have to happen will strain the resources. And those resources have to be enhanced.”
Langenberg adds that one of the key responsibilities for higher education is: “We in higher education have to change the way we train teachers. The profession of teachers has to be seen more as a profession and the job has to be reconfigured so that the conditions under which teachers work are a whole lot more attractive.”
As far as the University of Maryland is concerned, Langenberg says, “We’re reforming our eight schools and departments of education. We’re working on a K-16 partnership, and using it to help reform our teaching education, and working to align our admission standards with the high school assessments.”
The assessments Langenberg refers to are the 10 tests that Maryland is planning to administer to every high school student throughout their high school career to ensure that all students learn at high levels and graduate prepared to go on to post-secondary education.
Other states are pursuing the same kind of linkages but in different ways. For example, New York abruptly did away with its general high school diploma and made all high school courses conform to the curriculum of the Regents courses, which had previously been reserved for students identified as college-bound. As a result of the change, the number of African American and Latino students passing Regents exams more than doubled in one year.
The City University of New York has agreed to use the Regents exam as an entrance and placement exam, and the State University of New York is considering doing the same thing.
In Illinois, the state board of education is beginning to develop tests, to be known as the Prairie Tests. These tests will be administered to Illinois students in the second semester of the junior year.
“If they do well, fine, that score sticks with them,” says Keith Sanders, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education. “If they don’t do so well, they can get some remedial help while still in high school. I’m real interested in creating a seamless web of progress from preschool through college. We have not had that kind of alignment across bureaucracies in any state. We’re making progress in Illinois and it will be very good for future generations.”
The recent call for better K-16 cooperation came as part of a larger report by The Education Trust documenting the general lack of alignment between high school standards and college preparedness. One statistic cited by that report, Ticket to Nowhere: The Gap Between Leaving High School and Entering College and High-Performance Jobs, was that of the students graduating from high school in 1992, 72 percent enrolled in college within two years, whereas only 47 percent had completed a college preparatory curriculum. African American and Latino students and students from low-income families were less likely to be enrolled in the college-preparatory track than White, middle-class students. For many students, not being in the college-preparatory track meant that they were more likely to require remedial courses in college. And, although taking one or two remedial courses often does not significantly delay earning a college degree, requiring three or more can mean the difference between earning a bachelor’s degree and not earning one.
“As long as we allow the two-track system, with some kids being prepared for college and others not, African American kids will be at a disadvantage,” says Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust.
To order Thinking K-16, go to <www.edtrust.org> on the Web or phone The Education Trust at (202) 293-1217.
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