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Expert says college-readiness is more than just ACT



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Ernie Bauer (click for larger version)
April 27, 2011 - An expert from Oakland Schools gave the Oxford Community Schools Board of Education a presentation on the true meaning of college-readiness Monday night.

Ernie Bauer, the Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment Programs for Oakland Schools, told the board the current definition of college-readiness, which is based off the results from the ACT test, needs to be changed.

"I've been investigating for about a year...the way the state has elected to think about and define college ready," Bauer said. "They have chosen a cheap and easy way to say that is what it means to be college-ready."

College-readiness is defined as the percentage of students that meet the following four minimum scores on the ACT 18 on English, 22 in Math, 21 in Reading and 24 in Science.

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Based on this definition it was determined that 18.3 percent of Oxford High School's Class of 2011 is considered college-ready. Oxford ranked 28th in the county out of 65 high schools, which included traditional high schools along with alternative and adult education programs.

According to Bauer, students would then be judged if they were college ready by comparing their ACT test scores in the areas of English, Math, Reading and Science and see how they did if they received an A or B in the related college course.

According to Bauer, college-readiness should be based on kids showcasing to colleges what they know from their high school experience, not based on predicting post-secondary grades.

"For K-12 institutions to say the way I . . . know if a kid knows enough is that he goes and gets an A and B is silly," Bauer said.

He cited the Science portion of the Explorer and ACT test as an example of the "wrong-headed way to think about what it means to be college ready," he said.

"To be on track as college-ready as an eighth-grader...you have to be in the 91st percentile range," Bauer said. "Not more than nine percent of the kids in the nation will meet that standard."

When it came to the ACT test, Bauer noted a student had to score in the 80th percentile in science in order to be considered college ready.

He also noted in Math, the percentile was 63 percent, reading 53 percent and English was 37 percent.

"If Michigan kids scored like the kids in the nation, which they do, the highest the percent of all of those (areas) would be 20 percent (college-ready)," Bauer said.

The ACT did a study in 2005, at the request of colleges, and found that out of 45 percent of students who went on to get an A or B in science at the collegiate level, 23 percent of those students were deemed not ready for the college course.

"There were more kids who were told you are not ready who went on to get an A or B than were told you will get an A or B and didn't," Bauer said.

In English, out of the 61 percent of students who received on A or B in English composition, 11 percent of the students were predicted not to get an A or B in their college course, but did.

Out of the 54 percent of students who received an A or B in Social Sciences classes in college, 14 percent of students were deemed not college ready and received an A or B.

Only 45 percent of students studied went on to achieve an A or B in college Algebra, 22 percent of students were deemed not college ready and went on to achieve an A or B in the course.

In Michigan, students scored an average of 18.3 in English, 19.3 in Math, 19.4 in reading and 19.7 in science.

"So, they did best on science and worst on English. So now let's do the magic and let's talk about how what percent of these kids are college ready...52 percent of them are college ready in English, only 30 percent in Math, 38 percent in reading and 21 percent in science," Bauer said.

"That makes no sense," said school Trustee member Kim Shumaker.

Bauer compared the relationship between high schools and universities to that of a parent and child.

"When your kids become adults, they are going to make decisions you may or may not approve of, and some parents accept way too much responsibility for that," he said.

"You can do everything you can do and then something is going to happen...but I say there is a point which my responsibility in the decisions my kids make is up to them," Bauer added.

He said the high school's responsibility for the students grades end when they graduate high school. However, he said how well a student does in college is beyond the control of high schools.

"Different post-secondary institutions have traditions, they have norms, they have all kinds of things that might make me, a kid who shows up there, get an A in college composition, but not an A in college Algebra," Bauer said.

"Similarly, if I am a certain major, I may have to take that math course in a department, and in that department, nobody gets an A, but in this other department, if you can get it over there, virtually everyone gets an A," he added.

In addition to the institutional variables that can affect grades, Bauer pointed out things like love, drugs, video games, money, student motivation and aspirations also play a key factor in determining college success.

"Yes, we (high schools) have a responsibility to educate kids and do career prep, but there are things we cannot control about who goes, why they go, what does a grade reflect," Bauer said. "There are so many things that don't have to do with high school achievement...this is just a silly idea to base our goals on."

Board President Colleen Schultz said the presentation was an "eye-opener."

"I did not realize that the college readiness study was requested by colleges, as individual ACT results are useful to them," she said in an email.

"As the mother of two college students, I am well aware of the variables that affect college performance that are not tied to ACT scores - living away from home, meeting new people, self-discipline and maturity level of individual students," she added. "From that standpoint, I'm not sure I think the study's definition of college readiness is a reliable predictor of college success."

Oxford resident Rod Charles pointed out that the State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said it was valid to compare individual school districts to the statewide averages on the MEAP and MME tests.

"Schools need to know with clarity where they stand academically," Flanagan said. "This information will give school administers, teachers, parents and community members a clear understanding of how they measure up."

Flanagan went on to speak about college-readiness.

"We are testing basic skills here, not what students need to compete at a global level" Flanagan added. "If schools only have a low or moderate number of students being proficient at the basic skill level, what does that say about those schools and the chances for those students to succeed?"

"I will put my statistical understanding up against Mike Flanagan's any day," Bauer said.

According to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, fewer than 50 percent of Michigan students are proficient in writing across grades four, seven and 11.

He also noted only 16 percent of Michigan's high school students are college-ready based on their ACT scores.

"The numbers are truly scary," Snyder said. "Anything less than 100 percent is not good enough."

Instead of dwelling on the problem, Bauer offered a solution. "You say what do kids need to know and be able to do to be college and career ready, and you write tests to assess that," Bauer said.

He said the state of Washington is doing that with their tests, and the federal government is doing it with their National Assessment. "Right now, it is being done the right way," Bauer said.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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