Survey of high school students shows lack of preparation to do college work

iStock_000004579760XSmallA wide-ranging survey of high school students highlights the widening gap between student aspirations and achievement. While some 83% plan to enroll in some form of post-secondary education, statistics show that a large percentage of them do not have the academic preparation to do the work.

In the May issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Indiana University professors Martha McCarthy and George D. Kuh cite statistics from the new High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) as evidence that high schools need to demand more of their students and find new ways to engage them in learning.

Some 170,000 students in grades 9 through 12 in 167 high schools in 28 states responded to the survey during 2004 and 2005. Some of the major findings include:

  • Just under half of high seniors say they spend three or fewer hours per week studying;
  • Half of all students say they never, or only sometimes, receive prompt feed back from teachers;
  • Less than one-third of students are taking primarily college-prep or honors courses, or courses for college credit;
  • Just over half say they are challenged to do their best work at school; and
  • Only 35% say they are excited about their classes.

Too many schools are accepting these half-hearted efforts by students rather than challenging them to work up to their abilities, the authors say. About 45% of students spent three or fewer hours a week preparing for class reported receiving mostly A’s and B’s. This percentage rose to 70% for those who said they study as much as four hours per week.

These findings provide further evidence of why so many students are not following through on their original goals. According to the White House, only 68 of every 100 ninth graders graduate from high school on schedule, with about 40 of them enrolling immediately in post-secondary education. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, only 27 of the original group of ninth-graders persist to a second year of college. Other research shows that 60% of students in public two-year colleges college. Other research shows that 60% of students in public two-year colleges and one-fourth of those in four-year colleges and universities require one or more years of remedial coursework.

The researchers highlight the gap between high school and college requirements in three specific areas: reading, writing and mathematics:

Reading: While 80% of high school students reported that, in a typical week, they spend three hours or less reading assigned the National Survey of Student Engagement for college students (NSSE) reports that 75% of first-year students at four-year colleges read five or more textbooks, books or book-length packets of course readings during the school year, with about 40% reading 11 or more. According to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CSSE), more than half of community college students complete at least five such readings, with about a quarter (24%) reporting 11 or more readings of this nature. In contrast, the researchers note that only 2% of the HSSSE students devoted 11 or more hours per week to assigned readings.

Writing: A similar gap exists between high school and college writing expectations. According to the HSSSE, 78% of seniors said they wrote three or fewer papers or reports of more than five pages in length. Some 24% wrote no papers of this length during the school year. In contrast, the researchers note that some 36% of first-years students at all four-year institutions said they wrote at least five papers or reports that were five to 19 pages in length during the prior year. More than 60% of community college students wrote more than five papers during the year, according to the CCSSE. Some 30% said they wrote more than 11 papers.

Mathematics: The researchers cite statistics showing more than a fifth of first-year college students require remediation in math. As a group, the researchers note that” even though almost four-fifths of the career and vocational students said they intend to enroll in college, less than half of them (49%) took a math course during their senior years. Juniors and seniors in the college-prep track were more likely to take math courses though 18% of seniors in that category still did not take any math. The researchers conclude by noting that “to get more we must expect more — from teachers, school leaders, parents, communities, and especially students.”

“Are Students Ready for College? What Student Engagement Data Say” Phi Delta Kappan May 2006, Volume 87, Number 9 Pps. 664-669.

Published in ERN May/June 2006 Volume 19 Number 5

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