Educators are familiar with the phrase “college and career ready” but few are able to articulate what determines this readiness. This is because there has been little empirical analysis on the literary skills required in community colleges. Being college and career ready means students are able to communicate clearly—to speak grammatically, write well and read the required materials with understanding. A May 2013 study from the National Center on Education and the Economy asked what kind and level of literacy is required of a high school graduate for success in the first year of a community college program? They collected data from seven community colleges in seven states, serving rural, urban and suburban populations with enrollments from 3,000 to 30,000.
The reading and writing required of students in community colleges is not very complex or cognitively demanding. The reading complexity of college texts is between 11th and 12th grade. Successful readers of information-rich texts should have the ability to read complex texts in unsupported environments. The capacity to process, retain and synthesize large amounts of new information must be increased. Significant reading experiences must occur in a wider range of content areas. The skills in comprehending statistical tables, charts, maps, lists and other documents in college texts need to be improved.
Reading for in-depth subject matter comprehension is not formally taught in our high schools. This disconnect between high school and college reading demands suggests a need to reexamine what is taught in high school. What are we asking our students to do with what they read? College students are rarely asked to do complex analyses of texts, except in English Comp classes. One third (33%) of the courses examined used multiple choice or true/false exams and assignments exclusively.
Most introductory college classes demand very little writing; when it is required, instructors have very low expectations. Community College writing typically takes the form of informational writing or collecting evidence for a course of action. Complex writing plays a minor role in community college student exams. Even so, a large number of high school graduates cannot meet the low expectations that community colleges have of them.
Community College instructors do not expect their students to read at the level of their texts or to write much. The majority of essays were argument or informational, only one college contributed narrative essays. Agreement between scores was significant at the lower end of the grading scale with notable disagreement at the mid-range of the scale One-fifth (20%) of essays that the panel considered college ready were scored not college ready by the instructors. Almost half (48%) of essays considered college ready by the instructors were given scores of 2 or below by the panel.
Over 75% of the essays given a B by the instructors were marked 2 or below by the panel. Argument essays often received Bs without including well-supported claims. No pattern emerged to suggest why the panelists graded the writing aspect of the subject matter essays more harshly than instructors.
Community College students are required to learn college writing in English Comp and then rarely asked to write again. When they are asked to write outside of English class, the acceptable standard is considerably lower. Many of the deficits of HS school ELA instruction are being replicated rather than remedied in community colleges. Students clearly need better instruction in constructing arguments and in laying out their thinking logically and persuasively.
We need high schools and community colleges to concurrently raise their standards for reading and writing. This doesn’t just happen in high school, but needs to be a collaborative effort when implementing Common Core State Standards throughout the PK-12 curriculum.
Students must have the ability to read information-rich texts in unsupported environments. Teachers must increase the capacity of students to process, retain and synthesize large amounts of new information. Students must have significant reading experience in a wider range of content areas. Teachers must increase the ability of students in reading and understanding tables, charts, maps, and lists that supplement the prose in many college texts.
We are not teaching our high school and community college students to be proficient writers. The limited writing skills that we do teach, we do so ineffectively. Many high school graduates cannot meet the literacy demands of community college programs. Complex writing tasks need to play a larger role in both high school and community college student exams. History teachers may increase their writing instruction skills by signing up for this free online class.
Tucker, M. (2013). What does it really mean to be college and work ready? The English literacy required of first year community college students. The National Center on Education and the Economy. May 2013. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.ncee.org/college-and-work-ready/