High School, College Instructors Differ on Students’ Readiness

By Catherine Gewertz — January 21, 2010 1 min read
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What does it mean when far more high school teachers think their students are ready for college than do the college instructors who teach them? It means we have a pretty big disconnect between what high schools think is needed for success in college and what actually is needed.

This is not exactly news. We know there are many reasons that high school students fail to make it to college, or fail to thrive once they’re there. But a new survey of thousands of high school and college teachers, conducted by ACT Inc., fleshes out a few of the key reasons why.

One reason is that high school teachers and college instructors have differing views of what skills are important in college. High school teachers, for instance, rate things like media literacy and financial literacy as far more important than do college professors, who value the content areas of math, English, and science more.

Another is that high school teachers think they’ve prepared their students for the rigorous types of reading they will encounter in college, but college professors disagree. Science and math teachers in high school say it’s important for students to master reading strategies in those subjects, but they spend little or no time teaching such things.

Expectations play a role, too. High school teachers say that they or their colleagues have lower expectations for students who are perceived as not being college-bound.

These are key new findings of the survey. The report also reiterates many other interesting findings from earlier ACT curriculum surveys that are worth examining. For example, high school teachers tend to see as crucial for college a very wide swath of content and skills, compared with college professors, who believe in a shorter list of essential skills and knowledge.

This is interesting stuff to keep in mind as the debate about defining and measuring college readiness rolls on. The full survey is packed with data; a shorter version that highlights the findings and focuses on their policy implications is also available.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.