NYS Grads Ain't Reddy For College

graduation caps
Image by j.o.h.n. walker via Flickr

In case you have not already seen/heard this by now, I am reposting Sharon Otterman’s article: Most New York Graduates Are Not College Ready – in its entirety. If you like, you can click on the link above and read it in its original format. Frankly, this is the kind of news story that makes me weep inside.

If you prefer, you can read my repost below and catch all my snarky comments in blue. Red indicates sheer horror. (This is why I cannot loan out my books, people.)

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February 7, 2011

Most New York Students Are Not College-Ready


New York State education officials released a new set of graduation statistics on Monday that show less than half of students in the state are leaving high school prepared for college and well-paying careers. 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. That is well under half the current graduation rate of 64 percent, a number often promoted by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as evidence that his education policies are working.

But New York City is still doing better than the state’s other large urban districts. In Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, less than 17 percent of students met the proposed standards, including just 5 percent in Rochester.

The Board of Regents, which sets the state’s education policies, met on Monday to begin discussing what to do with this data, and will most likely issue a decision in March. One option is to make schools and districts place an asterisk next to the current graduation rate, or have them report both the current graduation rate and the college ready rate, said Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents.

The move parallels a decision by the Regents last year to make standardized tests for third through eighth graders more difficult to pass, saying that the old passing rates did not correlate to high school success. (Oh good, let’s make new, harder tests. That should fix everything.What else is going to have to fall out of the curriculum so that our kids can pass these silly tests?)

State and city education officials 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 the political will to acknowledge openly the chasm between graduation requirements and college or job needs is new, Dr. Tisch; David M. Steiner, the state education commissioner; and John King, the deputy state education commissioner, said in interviews last week.

With President Obama making college readiness and international competitiveness a top national goal, and federal and philanthropic money pouring into finding ways to raise national education standards, that equation is changing, they said. “It is a national crisis,” Dr. Steiner said.

Statewide, 77 percent of students graduate from high school. Currently, a student needs to score a 65 on four of the state’s five required Regents exams to graduate, and beginning next year, they will need a 65 on all five.

Using data collected by state and community colleges, testing experts on a state committee determined last year that a 75 on the English Regents and a 80 on the math Regents roughly predicted that students would get at least a C in a college-level course in the same subject. Scores below that meant students had to often take remediation classes before they could do college-level work. Only 41 percent of New York State graduates in 2009 achieved those scores. (No duh! This is what I have been seeing for years: Baffled community college students claiming to be “A students” in high school who have absolutely no idea how to read for meaning or write in complete sentences. No wonder they start freaking out when they suddenly get C’s on their essays!)

In the wealthier districts across the state, the news is better: 72 percent of students in “low need” districts are graduating ready for college or careers. (You get that, right? Over 25% of students in more affluent suburbs aren’t pulling their weight when they get to college.) But even that is well under the 95 percent of students in those districts who are now graduating. (We live in one of these “low need districts.” I have tutored students in grades 6-12 who still have not mastered basic comma rules. I have had to teach them commas, semi-colons and colons. I’ve thrown in a few mini-lesson on thesis statements for good measure. But that’s about all I can do. But seriously, the schools can’t do it all. I know they can’t. Why? Because public schools are so busy being mandated to prepare students for standardized tests that they simply do not have enough time to make sure that students have mastered certain things, so they have had to let some things go. I think folks at The Board of Regents must believe that kids pick up things like grammar by osmosis.)

The data also cast new doubt on the ability of charter schools to outperform their traditional school peers. Statewide, only 10 percent of students at charters graduated in 2009 at college-ready standards, though 49 percent received diplomas. The state has not yet calculated results for every district and school. (So charter school are broken, too? What a surprise!)

State officials have also begun a series of meetings in local districts to introduce this data and ask local officials what they want to do about it. A common reaction, Dr. Tisch said, is shock and hesitancy. There are fears of plummeting real estate values, as well as disagreement, particularly in rural areas, with the idea that all students need to be prepared for college.

Jean-Claude Brizard, the schools superintendent in Rochester for the past three years, said that while he was surprised by the data, he welcomed the effort to move the conversation away from simply graduating. In an effort to improve, Rochester has closed half its high schools and opened new schools, including its first high school that allows students to earn credits at several local colleges. 

In New York City, roughly 75 percent of public high school students who enroll in community colleges need to take remedial math or English courses before they can begin college-level work. (I would argue the same is true here in Rochester. Many of my incoming first year community college students are not anywhere ready for regular Comp-101. They need a more basic English class to prepare them for Comp-101. That is what my community college is grappling with now. This semester faculty in the English Department started developing a new diagnostic tool as the old AccuPlacer was proving ineffectual. Not everyone had to take it and part-time students slipped through the cracks.) City education officials said the 23 percent college-ready rate was not a fair measure of how the city would do if graduation requirements were raised to a higher standard, because students would work harder to meet that new bar.

While it has not gone so far as to calculate an alternative to graduation rates, the city has already begun tracking how each high school’s students fare in college, and in 2012 it will begin holding principals accountable for it. “Last year, well before the state announced this plan, we told schools we would begin including robust college readiness metrics in school progress reports,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer.

One thing that is helping districts get over their shock, Dr. Tisch said, is the opening of a discussion about how to improve things. On their tour, which has visited Albany, Buffalo and Rochester and will visit New York City, Westchester County and Long Island in the coming weeks, officials are presenting a menu of options. (Oooh, a menu! Well, I’ll take one helping of smaller class sizes: Eighteen students would be lovely. I’d like two helpings of students with parents who value and support education. I’d like a pile of teachers who are enthusiastic about their subject matter. I’d like intelligent principals who support their teachers and support staff. I’d like a double-helping of students who accept responsibility for their actions. I’d like to see Honor Courts comprised of the most ethical students, as nominated by teachers and peers. I’d like all students to sign an contract stating that they understand no one has the right to interfere with anyone else’s right to learn – because if they do, they will be expelled. And, um, I don’t see this on the menu but if it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to request students who remember to bring the necessary materials to class. Every day. Or at least just a pen.)

One idea is to simply report a college-ready graduation rate as an aspirational standard and leave it at that. (I have no idea what this means. So a principal could report: “We aspire to have 35% of our students graduate by 2015. That is insane! That is called The Anti-Aspirational Initiative.) Another is to impose tougher graduation standards — like requiring that all students in the state take four years of math and science, or permanently raising the passing score on high school Regents exams to 75 in English and 80 in math. (Be still my heart! Could it be that The Board of Regents is starting to realize a 65% is not really a passing grade. It’s a friggin’ low D! Way to go, Board of Regents. For the love of Pete, it’s only taken thirteen years for you to realize that teaching to a low standard is only bound to enforce that standard. Oy!)

But they are also discussing increased flexibility for districts and students, so that they can spend more time on the subjects they are interested in. For example, students might be permitted to choose at least one of the Regents exams they must pass to graduate — currently all students have to pass math, English, science, global history and American history. Students might be able to substitute foreign language, economics or art for one of the five. Or students could replace one Regents with a vocational skills test in an area like carpentry or plumbing. (Non-snarky response: I actually love this idea. Traditional education is not for everyone, and we need to value our vocational students more. Honestly, those middle and high school years are the only times in life where we expect people to be universally excellent at everything from foreign language to math to science to social studies to English to gym to sewing and cooking! People aren’t made that way. It would be great if we could allow students to specialize in their areas of interest. I mean, you could have asked me if 5th grade if I was going to be a nuclear scientist and I would have told you, “Hells bells, no!” and then I would not have had to suffer through calculus. I can honestly tell you that in my career, I have never used calculus. Ever.

Alternatively, the state could grant flexibility to districts to give credits based not on how many hours students sit in a classroom — currently 54 hours per semester per credit — but on whether students show competency, based on examination or online course work. (Really, so a student who can demonstrate that he already knows his shit might not have to sit through a required class. Just because the State says he has to take it? Now that’s somethin’!)

To press their case, state officials said they hoped to get political support from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The political environment was particularly challenging now, because the state will roll out a new system in July to evaluate teachers that has the potential of strong opposition from teachers’ unions. (Oh great. Let’s blame the teachers who can’t “fix” their students in one calendar year, and if their numbers aren’t high enough, let’s put them on probation (or possibly fire them), ‘cuz teaching is not stressful enough without wondering if you are going to have a job the following September. And everyone knows that when students fail, it’s definitely the teachers’ fault.)

“The obligation at the end of the day,” Dr. Tisch added, ” is to make sure that when youngsters graduate, that graduation means something from New York State.” (I think Dr. Tisch meant to say: The obligation is to make sure that graduation from New York State means they have a set of skills which will enable them to succeed in college and in life. Because right now, that is just not the case.)

23 thoughts on “NYS Grads Ain't Reddy For College

  1. This NY thing may seem frightening but when kids entered my 11th grade American History class having moved from “up ders in Neeew Yawks” to here in Miami, they were 2-4 grade levels above my students. One ninth grade teacher polled his five classes and not a single kid could identify that body of water just 3 miles east as the Atlantic Ocean !

    1. Why does that not make me feel better? 🙁 I am sure that New York students are not among the most terribly educated in our nation – remember, I’ve lived in Louisiana and seen schools in parts of Mississippi that would curl your toes! – but there are schools in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse where things are just awful. And as a resident of NY State, these numbers regarding preparedness are more than a little shocking. And I have to tell you, your anecdote is really grim. You can keep bragger’s rights on that one.

  2. I graduated from a school in Alabama, one of the consistent bottom-feeders on the educational hierarchy. But my education was top-notch because a). my parents could afford it, and b). they told me (threatened me) not to waste their friggin’ money.

    And now I’m submitting my kids to Tennessee’s public school system, another low guy on the totem. Maybe by the time they hit middle and high school, we can afford to put them in a private school with excellent standards, but if not, how can we make sure they get the very most out of a broken system? And even if we (the Buttrams) do go private, we (the country) aren’t really solving a problem, we’re just letting the rich-enough people solve THEIR own problem.

    Boo. Hiss.

    Thanks for sharing your point-of-view. I always had such great respect for teachers because I could never, ever do it. (What do you mean you don’t know what x equals? Just solve for it! What do you mean how? LIKE THIS!) (Sorry, I just had a flashback from my math tutor days. Shudder.)

    1. Butt:

      I think you speak for a lot of parents everywhere. Most of America’s public school systems are broken, and yet they continue to suffer cuts. ANd you are right, but skimming kids who are able to afford private out of the public schools, we aren’t fixing the problem, but – seriously – what will? We keep passing our school budgets, only to watch scores decline. At some point, I understand parents’ decisions to pull children out and go private. Don’t we all want the best opportunities for our children? If your local public schools don’t provide those opportunities, well… what are your options?

  3. You hit a very tender spot in my heart (brain?) with your wonderful blog. I taught all types of language arts in the middle school for years, so I appreciate your dismay at the poor punctuation and spelling. But I have another beef.
    I cannot understand why Boards of Education, Superintendents and Boards of Education think all learning comes from books. Students also need practice in THINKING, working things through in a logical fashion, using all parts of their brains. Experts used to think geometry did this, but I personally believe the art, music and physical education classes help more, but these classes are cut first. Any thoughts on this?

    1. Agreed. Music and art classes are always among the first hit. (In our area, I don’t see PE hit as hard; coaches seem to find a way to get what they need fiscally. Their teams bring trophies and revenue to their schools.) That said, I remember starting my instrument in 3rd grade; my son didn’t have a chance to start (in school) until 5th grade. Two years lost – so we paid for private lessons outside of school. We were able to afford these lessons. Not everyone is.

  4. Can’t they just drop the Regents, CAPT (for Connecticut), etc tests? Shouldn’t the grades the kids are getting be enough to show “mastery” in the subject? Honestly, teach the kids how to learn and how to THINK. The rest will fall into place, test scores will rise, and we’ll be a more productive society.

    1. Bob:

      I have been arguing this for years! I guess the push for standardization came when where were discrepencies were found among schools within and between states. But I can tell you, I can tell you who will get what on standardized tests. Smart kids do well; average kids fall in the middle; and weak students typically do poorly. So you are right, the standardized testing systems reinforces what teachers already know. And it’s a money making machine.

  5. Only one comment…..even back when I went to school in High School 65 was passing. However if you wanted regents certificiates you needed to get 75 or better. I enjoyed reading your attached article and your comments in blue.

  6. “Baffled community college students claiming to be “A students” in high school who have absolutely no idea how to read for meaning or write in complete sentences. No wonder they start freaking out when they suddenly get C’s on their essays!)”

    I teach at a Community College in NC, and I get this all the time. Just handed back a lot of C’s and they freaked out! In my last semester’s evaluations of my performance as an Instructor, one of my students wrote that because of my education (Doctorate) I expected too much from them in an English Composition course. I doubled over laughing — and smarting — this is college, folks! Not HS anymore. And getting a 65 in the HS Regents was easy as pie — nothing to it, especially since we were forced to teach Regents-based material all year long. The standards are too low, for the Regents and for the classes — so they pass, partly because they’re coddled, but they are not prepared for College material or Professors — neither of whom will coddle them.

    1. Marina:

      I know you say you “laughed,” but it isn’t really funny, right? I mean, I feel for these kids who have been misled. They have been told they are very good students, and then they are suddenly told, “Um, you don’t know what you are doing”; that’s the part that smarts, right?

      So any ideas on how to more closely align high school and college expectations?

  7. WOW! I admit I quit reading part-way through the article and snarky comments. What I did read was nothing shocking, overall. I am a 1987 high school graduate (yes, that makes me officially ol) and was one of those “all A” students who was very mystified by the low essay scores in college English classes. I managed, though – and brought up most of the grades, eventually. I relied heavily on the MLA style book and other resources for “how to write an essay” that included specific sections on thesis writing, etc.

    It wasn’t until I began the continuing education credits for my degree (scary I became a teacher, yes?) at another college, years after graduation, that I feel I really learned to look at a piece of writing critically and write critically about it. I sweated bullets in that class, but was forever grateful for having taken it: Learning those critical thinking theories and putting them into practice was one of the best ways for me to learn how to write a top grade paper.

    When I’m back in a college classroom periodically, many of my classmates are still clueless when it comes to writing a paper. This tells me that the state of education (in every state, no doubt) has yet to improve overall since 1987. Granted, there are still the rare teachers who can drill into the most recalcitrant student just exactly when and how to use the semi-colon and coax an excellent essay out of the most reluctant writer. But – gems like that are few and far between, unfortunately.

    When I read a high school graduate’s paper during peer review time and discover the now-college student is writing in fragments, or uses an ‘s for everything but to show possession, I cringe. When the basic topic is not supported throughout the paper, I wince and wonder how on earth . . .

    Evaluating teachers may be helpful to a certain extent. I’m sure many of the readers out there recall at least one teacher who left the assignments on a table somewhere in the classroom, then slipped out for a smoke (back in the day!) or hid behind a newspaper, or dominated lesson time with personal stories about . However, we also remember the students who weren’t going to do jack sh** because they just didn’t give a damn, or the students who were just plain incapable no matter what was tried – and so, let’s evaluate teachers by that standard? I think not.

    Learning begins at home, it begins within the person. There is no magic formula to fix the ills of the educational system – parents, teachers, students – all need to work together to make a successful graduate. Far too many parents say “That’s not my job, the kid is yours until the end of the school day,” and far too many teachers throw up their hands in disgust and say, “I can’t be social worker/friend/parent AND teach, too,” and far too many students believe they can write a paper in text message abbrievations and that this is an acceptable form of written communication. That is, if they bother to write the paper at all.

    1. Kathy, I agree that learning begins at home and that it is always up to the individual to do the best he or he can, but – as you said – it’s hard to believe our schools are doing the best they can do when we see an entire generation of public school students graduating with the same deficiencies.

      I know they say education is wasted on the young. And maybe there is some truth to this. Maybe we need to stop trying to shoot everyone down the college pipe.

  8. My third-grader is not an “inside the box” thinker. He struggles with reading a selection and answering questions about the selection. His answers make sense in a different way, but they don’t fit the “testing” thought-process. He has been a solid B student this year in Reading. . .until they started prepping for TCAPs. Mind you, these tests will not be given until mid-April, but they started “prepping” 3 weeks ago. Because much of his Reading material was now echoing the testing format, his grades dropped dramatically. He is visually frustrated, but I don’t know how to help him. Unlike my oldest son (who aces any type of test), son#2 just doesn’t think in a way that will allow him to succeed in a standardized testing format. BUT, he is way more creative and outgoing than my oldest son. And he is smart. He just doesn’t fit the mold the government is trying to force on him.

    Personal responsibility is the key to success. Until each student takes ownership of his/her education, it will not “take” with him/her. Until that student is ready to quit pointing fingers and get down to business, he/she will not succeed at anything.

    Here is what I tell my Composition students: I don’t care if you “didn’t learn anything in high school.” You can make up for lost time on your own and succeed in college. What you can’t do is to continue to blame everyone else for you failures. Blaming your sophomore English teacher will not allow you to pass this class. Learning how to write a good thesis and support it will. Accusing your senior English teacher of “not liking you” and “being the reason you didn’t learn nuthin” will not help you pass this class. Attending class, taking notes, and participating in the discussions will.

    I am having a terribly frustrating semester – the worst one I have had in my 10 years of teaching at a community college. I just handed back the first batch of essays for my Comp. 1 class. I spent around 20 to 30 minutes grading each essay, and I gave them a ton of feedback, etc. I received an email from a student (who received an “F”) that started with this sentence: “Did you even read my essay?” I about lost it. But it is sad that most students immediately react by pointing the finger at the teacher rather than accepting that their own work was not what it needed to be.

    This “blame” mentality, which is found everywhere in our society, is truly killing education.

    1. Your mantra is my mantra. I had a rough semester this past fall. I agree that that personal responsibility is where it’s at. One problem is so many parents have been coddling their children – killing them with kindness, helping them to NOT fail – that they have a false sense of their own abilities (or inabilities).

      I agree that the passing of the blame needs to stop. Whitney Houston sang: “I believe the children are our future/teach them well and let them lead the way…” We need to do our part and students need to do theirs.

  9. This is sad, the issue, not the post. 🙂 You lived in Nola a time and sadly our public school system has changed little, I am sure, since you left. Education has been put on the “let’s think about this” list, when it should be on our “let’s take action” list. Thinking and brainstorming is only good if action follows. Unfortunately here, as in other states like NY, it has never made it past the drawing board.

    1. It just seems like in the United States when we have wanted to accomplish something, we have always made it a priority. We have said, I want to make this happen and we do it. The time is ripe for us to say I want my school to be 100% better by 2020. I want my children to learn more at school and have less brought home. I want them to eat healthier foods while at school. I want to be sure the best teachers are teaching my children and that these great teachers receive reasonable merit-based pay increases. I want to make sure that lousy teachers are not allowed to remain in the system. I want a budget that will fund music and art and technology and core courses and cut out silly testing mandated by the state which simply reinforces what teachers already know: smart kids are smart, average kids are average and weak students are weak. I would like students to think a bit more about what they might like to do in the future and have the opportunity to give these things a try before they head off to college. I want students to learn about integrity, honesty, and what it means to have a moral compass. I want smart kids to be as cool as the jocks.

      Why is this unreasonable?

      1. It’s not and I couldn’t have said it better myself! What you have expressed above is exactly my thoughts. I had some pretty amazing teachers growing up and I had some sub-par ones who did the bare minimum and didn’t seem to really want to be a teacher, at least from a students point of view. My mom pulled me out as a 5th grader so my public school experience ends there but from what I gather from my friends it didn’t change much from there on up. You seem very passionate about teaching and I wish all teachers had just an ounce of what you have.

  10. This one got my goat, so I’m making a rare post.

    Can someone explain to me what genius thinks we need two stats for HS graduation (ie. graduate vs college prepared graduate)?

    Last time I checked, HS was supposed to prepare students to have the knowledge they need to be college ready! Not everyone may be Harvard-ready, but there are different level colleges for different levels of abilities. So why must we introduce a new stat to show which kids “graduated” (but don’t have the ability to write or read competently and should have been flunked) and which are “college ready” (e.g. have mastered the skills necessary to function adequately in today’s modern world, where reading, writing and critical thinking are mandatory)?

    Could it possibly be that we are so afraid of being PC that we’ve taught kids to the lowest common denominator, and now stupidity rules? Or that we are so afraid of disappointing our kids and so busy “protecting” them they can longer handle failure – or can no longer handle working hard so that they achieve something on their own? I watched The Biggest Loser last night on DVR and saw 3 parents gain weight to ensure their kids wouldn’t be below the red line and kicked off the ranch. One dad basically said, while we’d all do anything to protect our kids, wouldn’t it have been better to motivate the kids to work harder and achieve a weight loss to guarantee they’d be above the line? He, in fact, woke his daughter up early, did extra workouts with her and she lost 7 lbs that week. Imagine that. Hard work + perseverance = confidence and success.

    I think this is the core of the problem with our country today. The work ethic has deteriorated and the is a sense of entitlement without the commensurate willingness to work hard to achieve success. We see it in school grades; we see it in get rich quick schemes; we see it in people being famous for doing nothing; we see it with government and industry processes that pass the buck so many times you can’t figure out where to go to solve a problem (that was most likely caused by stupidity or someone unwilling to think critically in the first place).

    I love modern technologies and conveniences. But sometimes, I wonder if simplicity, common sense, and common courtesy can no longer coexist in our modern world.

    Well, I’d like to say I feel better after that diatribe, but I don’t. I feel sad for the state we find ourselves in. And before you say get involved and do something – I have to admit, I’m too worn out from trying to keep my little corner of life afloat to tackle the the greater good. And that may be even more sad.

  11. My online composition classrooms range from A-level ability from day one to every second word misspelled. To make it easier for everyone, I started a blog to collect the small lessons many of them need. I meant for it to be one more tool, but despite the lighter tone I try to maintain, the stats say the visits are to whichever is the new post. I am gratified they click through from our course shell, but the older posts seldom see visitors again. sigh.

    Teachers can’t address all the (far too numerous) issues creating bad results in school, but I am thrilled at how many of us are willing to try anyway. It’s wonderful that your being Freshly Pressed led me here. I look forward to reading more from you!

    1. I tried to integrate blogging into my classroom as well. I didn’t find it to be too fabulous either. I am glad you landed here, and I will have to check out your trials and tribulations! While I am taking the semester off, I am excited to return to the classroom in the fall. It’s where I am supposed to be. 😉

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