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Schools Responding to Higher College Standards

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"When colleges announce their admissions standards," says Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "they announce the missions of the schools."

Twenty-seven states have already announced, or are in the process of formulating, new and higher standards for admission to their public colleges and universities, according to a report released last week by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (nassp). And the changes in the admission requirements of public-college systems, which altogether enroll more than two-thirds of all college students, are having widespread effects, many educators agree, on curricula, guidance counseling, and students in high schools across the country.

In fact, Mr. Boyer contends, actions that limit access to colleges and universities to students who meet tougher academic requirements are having a more dramatic impact on schools than growing legislative and public pressure to make schools require more of their students.

"In our study, we found that the single most important activity that could cause overnight change in the high-school curriculum would be if colleges announce their [admissions] standards," he says. The Carnegie Foundation is in the midst of a two-year study of American high schools.

Such pressure from above has combined with "a general concern for excellence that permeates the whole curriculum" to prompt changes in high-school graduation requirements and to force students to take high school more seriously, according to Irene G. Bandy, assistant superintendent of public instruction in Ohio.

Ms. Bandy blames much of the long-term decline in the achievement of high-school students on the "open-door" college admissions policies that "told the students they could do anything in high school and still go to college."

"Before, when little was being asked of students, they did the bare minimum," she says. "Students opted out. But with the new requirements, they are opting back in and becoming more responsible about their education. Attitudes are beginning to turn around."

State institutions are now asking that high-school students complete more years of study in mathematics, social sciences, English, foreign languages, and the sciences. Two states--Alabama and South Dakota--and a number of individual public campuses are raising the minimum level of standardized-test scores that they require of applicants for admission. In addition, Alabama, Alaska, South Dakota, and West Virginia are upgrading class-rank or grade-point-average standards as well, the nassp study says.

The most sweeping changes are in California, where the California State Universities and College system and the University of California have announced more rigorous admissions standards, and in Ohio, where school and state-college officials worked together for two years to develop new admissions requirements.

No Evidence Available

Since new admissions standards for many public colleges will not go into effect until the fall of 1983--and in many cases not until the fall of 1985 or 1986--no statistical evidence of revised procedures or curricula in high schools is yet available.

But an informal survey of education officials and guidance counselors in several states indicates that the most dramatic changes will result from the growing number of students taking higher-level courses to keep their options for college training open.

The need for more academic work in required fields of study, state officials and guidance counselors say, will prod many students to become more serious about their schoolwork. But it will also affect scheduling and staffing in schools and require that counselors closely monitor the academic programs of students who may be interested in going to college, to ensure that they begin taking college-preparatory courses as early as possible.

Among the issues raised by revised academic standards, educators say, are these:

The shape of the curriculum. The added demand for college-required courses will most likely create smaller enrollments in high-school elective courses.

"Some schools are reporting significantly lower enrollments in music, art, industrial arts, home economics, and typing," says Ms. Bandy of the Ohio Office of Public Instruction.

"Schools that operate on seven or more periods a day are having less difficulty than schools that operate on a six-period day," she says, noting they can offer more opportunity for electives.

In California, where funds for education were hit hard by Proposition 13, schools are now operating on as few as five periods a day.

"The electives which have been cut include not only the arts and home economics, but also those advanced mathematics and science courses the state colleges are now requiring students to take," according to James H. Wilson, assistant to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Wilson C. Riles of California.

Mr. Wilson notes that one of the first programs to be cut as the result of Proposition 13 was summer-school classes. This is an area that needs to be strengthened so that students will have an opportunity to make up courses they may have failed in order to be eligible for admission at state colleges or universities, Mr. Wilson believes.

In localities where high-school graduation standards are being stiffened concurrent with higher college admission standards, some educators say there is a "double-whammy" placed on students.

Hughes High School in Cincinnati, for example, will change next year from a system of four ten-week independent terms to a quarter system in which course grades are made cumulative for a given year. Previously, students could matriculate to the next level of a subject even if they failed every other term, according to the school's head guidance counselor, Joseph L. Prior.

"With the new standards, we may be able to hold commencement in the principal's office," he says. "Students are already scrambling for courses to get an additional year of study in English, mathematics, history, science, and social studies.

"The graduation requirements are more in line with the newly-established admissions standards at Ohio State and Kent State, but still fall short of qualifying graduates for enrollment at either of those universities," Mr. Prior said.

Mr. Boyer, a former U.S. Commissioner of Education, and others are also concerned that in their hurry to prepare students for specific college admission requirements, educators will make only "superficial changes" in their curricula, rather than working together at the school and college levels to "improve what is essential about education."

"Many colleges and universities will require students to take two years of a foreign language in high school," Mr. Boyer says. "But studying foreign languages for 45 mildly confusing minutes a day, five days a week for two years denies everything we know about how students best learn languages. They're using traditional categories, looking at numbers, and employing rigid units of time," he says. "Educators need to look at how subjects are best taught and when to begin teaching them."

The need for teachers. New requirements for additional courses in science, mathematics, and languages may compound staffing problems in districts that are already short of teachers in these areas, school officials point out.

"The demand for teachers would be worse in the smaller districts where there is little flexibility," according to John A. Cover, head guidance counselor at Jefferson High School in Portland, Ore., who is also on the board of teacher standards and practices for his school district.

Officials in some school districts, however, are said to be developing creative solutions to potential staffing problems.

"Contiguous school districts are opening up enrollments in the higher courses, so that a student who wants to take third-year Latin or second-year chemistry can go to a school in another district that offers the course," according to Ms. Bandy of Ohio. "The districts are also sharing teachers by giving them half-time duties in each district," she says.

One program in California retrains teachers from other fields to teach mathematics, said Mr. Riles of the state superintendent's office. The program also offers accreditation credits to outsiders with mathematics backgrounds so that they can be recruited to teach in the schools.

Advanced Classes

In addition, some districts have collaborated with neighborhood community colleges, sending students to the campuses for advanced mathematics classes, for example, Mr. Wilson says.

nassp is supporting legislation initiated by Senator John H. Glenn, Democrat of Ohio, and Representative Dave McCurdy, Democrat of Oklahoma, that would establish a program allowing college graduates to be relieved of a year of college-loan obligations for every year they teach math and science in the schools, according to Scott Thomson, the group's executive director.

The need for more student guidance. Mr. Prior and other guidance counselors note that they will be taking on a new role. They will have to inform parents and students of the new admissions requirements of the public institutions within their state and in neighboring states. And they will also have to spend more time monitoring students' academic programs to make sure that they adequately prepare the students to meet stiffer college-entrance standards.

Some state education agencies are developing brochures to make students more aware of their future academic and vocational options, and the relationship of their high-school work to those options.

"So many kids don't know what they want to do. They think it's a deficiency on their part. What we are developing is a road map to show the various possibilities," says Dawson Orman, deputy superintendent for instruction and support services for the Jefferson County (Ky.) public school district.

"Many students don't want to take math but want to go into a profession that will require the training somewhere along the line. They'll be able to see on the map what skills they will need for college or professions of interest," Mr. Orman says.

A few states are developing guidance strategies that apply as early as elementary school.

A new requirement adopted this year by the New York State Board of Regents, for example, requires all school districts to develop guidance plans for all students in kindergarten through grade 12.

The plan requires that teachers in elementary schools help students prepare for further schooling and help those with behavioral and adjustment problems. Students in grades 7 through 12 must undergo an annual review of their educational progress and career plans, as one of the new requirements.

Difficulties for minority and rural students. Raised admissions standards will have their greatest effect on minority students from inner cities and those from small rural high schools, some educators say.

"The large comprehensive high school is not the rule of thumb in West Virginia," says Jack Delaney, superintendent of Monongalia County schools.

"We have small high schools of about 200 to 600 students," Mr. Delaney adds. "I can envision, somewhere in the future, raised requirements for more college courses and higher grade-point-averages and test scores that will be within the reach of students at the comprehensive schools but not students at the state's many vocational schools."

In Ohio, the students most immediately affected by new college entrance requirements will be those who attend the state's 49 two-year vocational high schools.

According to Ms. Bandy, they will no longer have the required number of credits to be accepted unconditionally at Ohio State University, traditionally among the largest open-admissions institutions in the country.

At a meeting this month of the joint Nebraska State School Boards Association and the Nebraska Association of School Administrators, Ronald Roskens, president of the University of Nebraska, defended new entrance requirements adopted this year against charges by critics that the standards will discourage some students from applying to the university. He said the require-ments are designed to "provide clear and consistent guidance to students," and chided opponents for focusing only on "the policy's potential for the exclusion of marginal students."

Some minority leaders say that higher admissions standards discriminate against minority students. Black students, who score on average over 100 points lower than whites on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, often live in areas where the incentive to study--and the textbooks themselves--are lacking, the critics of new admissions standards charge.

Higher Standards

"Higher standards in California will hurt minorities in the inner city who are not as successful in school as suburban white kids," comments Milton E. Braiman, guidance counselor and college advisor at Fairfax Senior High School in Los Angeles.

"The inner-city students, mostly black and Chicano, sometimes have language difficulties to overcome," Mr. Braiman says.

"They are often 'late bloomers' who do their best work after they get into college."

But Edward Q. Moulton, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents counters that "less than half of all students in Ohio who entered the public-college system earned a degree, and the percentage of minority students who went to college and graduated was significantly less."

"We have just passed through a permissive period," Mr. Moulton says.

"Our lower admissions standards simply meant that more students could flunk out."

"The open door was becoming a revolving door," according to Ms. Bandy, the assistant superintendent of public instruction.

"I tell students that the door to higher education is still open," says Mr. Prior, the Cincinnati guidance counselor. "They can go to community college, make up their deficiencies, and transfer."

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