School & District Management Opinion

Not Ready for College? Flunk Gym

By Starr Sackstein — May 15, 2016 3 min read
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Guest post by Douglas W. Green, EdD

Thanks to pressure from the federal government, high schools are pressed to increase their four-year graduation rates. Unfortunately, this is easy to do by simply making it easier to graduate, and many high schools seem to have done so. This is similar in nature to schools that cheat on the federally mandated tests.

The unintended consequence of graduating students who aren’t ready for college is the expansion of remedial courses by colleges.

While colleges still charge tuition for these courses, they are not credit bearing. They are also big money makers as the classes tend to be large and at some schools two thirds of incoming students have to take at least one. This situation is shameful and both high schools and colleges should be held responsible for caring for their institution’s bottom lines more than their customers.

Unless a student has “high grades”, students have to take placement tests in English and Math. They are given by almost all two-year schools and some public four-year schools during the spring semester of a student’s senior year. Few high schools offer preparation for these exams other than the English and math courses the students take along the way.

For math this is really problematic as most students don’t take math during their senior year as it isn’t required. This means that their preparation for the test involves not studying the subject for a year or more prior to test day. Many schools also charge for these tests to cover the costs they bear from the people who make the tests.

So what should high schools and colleges do to deal with this injustice?

First they should work together to help students pass the placement tests before they start paying tuition. This shouldn’t be too difficult, but it does require a leadership vision that says the status quo is unacceptable, and for my money, immoral or at least unethical.

Step one would be to administer the placement tests at the end of their junior year to let every student know if they are ready or not. Students who aren’t ready in either or both subjects can then use their entire senior year and the prior summer to get ready.

Step two would be high schools designing senior electives aimed at preparing students for the tests. For some students, they will probably be able to pass the test mid-year. This would allow for some more interesting electives during the second semester.

Students that still don’t pass mid-year can redouble their efforts, but no matter how hard they try, some will still not be ready at the end of their senior year. Ideally, students who aren’t ready shouldn’t graduate but if they must some kind of post-graduate program for these students should be available in the fifth year for free. As this would probably be a part-time affair, these same students should be able to take a few college courses as non-matriculated students at the local two-year school to get some experience with college.

For students who do not attend enlightened high schools that offer programs similar to the one suggested, they can take matters into their own hands. I’m sure colleges would be happy to give placement tests to juniors for a fee, so if the high school doesn’t make this happen, students can do it themselves. Test results should help to design a senior year course plan. If at the end of the senior year the student still isn’t ready, the goal should be to return to high school the following year for courses that will prepare students properly.

If students attend a high school that is determined to graduate them anyway and won’t allow them to return as post graduates, students may have to resort to doing what it takes to not graduate on their own.

At my local high school this would simply involve failing the last semester of physical education. (Apologies to PE teachers for the title, but these classes do usually take place in the gym). Flunking gym was easy at my school since all you had to do to fail is not show up.

Let’s hope that schools will cooperate with students needing more time with high school level courses so they won’t have to resort to this type of subterfuge. And if your high school is still pushing kids out to pay college tuition for high school courses, for god’s sake do something about it. It isn’t that complicated.

Brody, Leslie, Just 37% of U.S. High School Seniors Prepared for College Math and Reading, Test Shows, The Wall Street Journal, 5/2/2016

Kamenetz, Anya, Most High School Seniors Aren’t College Or Career Ready, Says ‘Nation’s Report Card, nprEd, 5/2/2016

What Are College Placement Tests? Big Future by the College Board, May 4, 2016

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