Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not ready for college? You don't say!

Two reports issued recently:

  The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2012 [ACT]

The SAT (originally an acronym for Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (originally an acronym for American College Testing) are the two competing standardized exams required for admission to most four-year colleges and universities (here's a New York Times opinion piece on the differences).

So what does the most recent scoring of these exams reveal about the high school class of 2012?

For the SAT, only 43% of the test takers reached the 1550 benchmark score which statistically indicates a 65% chance of earning a B- or higher GPA in their first year at a four-year college or university.  In other words, 57% of SAT examinees are apparently not college ready.   Here it is broken down by subject area:

For the ACT, only 40% of the test takers are seen as being fully college ready.  Here are the 2012 percentages meeting college-readiness benchmarks by subject:

Both the SAT and ACT reports indicate an increasing pool of diverse students taking the exams as well as an increase in low-income students (as measured by fee waiver requests).  It's hard to say why students are not doing well on these exams (I have a lot of ideas, but no data).

So, I teach at a community college.  Guess where the low-scoring ACT/SAT students go?  They come here since we're open admission and they're definitely not college-ready.  This is not news to us, we offer remedial courses in reading, writing, and mathematics.  We struggle in the classroom every day trying to balance academic rigor with student retention.

Not enough students are being retained.  Not enough students are graduating.  Students take too long to graduate.  All semester long, the faculty are inundated with "What can we do to change all of this?"  Pressure comes from the college administration.  Pressure comes from the state and federal governments.  Why are we failing these students?

Then I think about why students do badly in my classes.  They generally do poorly because:

  1.  They have no interest in the subject or material (and are not shy about admitting it)
  2.  They don't read.  Not the textbook.  Not any books about anything.
  3.  They're underprepared for college.  They don't understand arithmetic, let along algebra.
  4.  They're underprepared for college.  They can't write a coherent paragraph.
  5.  They don't turn in all of the assignments and labs and get zeros.
  6.  They attempt to cheat, copy other's work, or plagiarize.
  7.  I see them texting or not paying attention when I'm lecturing.

Not all students are like this, of course, since we also have some great students but the ones we lose and who never graduate definitely share these characteristics.  Call me cynical, but I can't believe these particular students haven't had these attitudes and problems thoughout high school and even earlier (which is why they're not college ready).

What the fuck do you want me to do?  I teach to the best of my ability but the students have to meet me half way.  I often compare college to a gym membership.  Just buying a membership won't get you in shape.  Showing up and not working out won't get you in shape.  You have to commit to go regularly and work out.  It's not easy and the harder you work, the better your results.  Everyone deserves a chance, but no one deserves a free ride.  I can't take a lazy, slacker 18-year-old and turn him into a scholar.  I concentrate my energy on the good students who want to learn and if the slacker fails and drops out, it really shouldn't be my problem.


  1. Do you see similar rates of "failure" (C or lower GPA in this case) in your classes/department/college compared to that predicted by the SAT/ACT?
    Of course, not all students who take these tests actually attend/get into college, so maybe you'd have to find out your college's average scores to get a comparable estimate of how "college ready" your students 'should' be on average.

    1. I'd like to look at that data but, quite honestly, who has the time. At a community college we have a 15/15 contact hour load (5 classes or labs/semester) and no one's paying me to look at data. I would like to see our administration look at such data but I won't hold my breath.

  2. Woot woot woot!

    Although, from what I read on this blog, I can definitely imagine some student who has never before cared about school, taking your class and finally deciding to care.

    1. I've definitely had students become geology majors after taking my classes.

  3. I agree. Focus on the good students. I have heard a lot of crap from "on high" at my college about retention rates, but I can only do so much as an instructor. I waste too much time on those students who don't give a shit or don't have the skills to succeed in college.

  4. I like your blog (I'm a Geochemist with an Oil & Gas Eng MSc myself) but I think it would be good to check your 3rd point where you say "let along" instead of "let alone", it just seems a bit worse since you are basically calling out on students mistakes hehe

    Keep up the good work!