The concept of high-school graduates “being ready for college” has had many meanings over the years.
In terms of preparedness for college reading and math courses, a growing percentage of Maricopa County graduates are not ready for those rigors when they move up to Maricopa County community colleges or Arizona universities, an Arizona Community Foundation report suggests. That’s 59% of high school grads in the county. Among the class of 2008, an average 70 percent of county students were college-ready in English, 42 percent in math. Those figures are down from 77 percent and 51 percent in 2006.
Among the Class of 2008, an average 70 percent of county students were college-ready in English, 42 percent in math. Those figures are down from 77 percent and 51 percent in 2006.
David Garcia, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Arizona State University, said that the numbers should advance the discussion of what it means to be prepared for college amid constantly changing global economics and technology.
“For years, it was a standardized test and a set of skills you were expected to do,” Garcia said. “But what can you do with the set of skills? That’s a question that has been lingering for some time, and there is more of an expectation that students who graduate should be ready for college. …
“It’s not a standardized test score. It’s a real-world indicator of how schools are doing that matters to students.”
Tracey Benson, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools office, said that college readiness is high on every local school district’s priority list.
Readiness is one of the criteria that the federal government is using to determine which states will receive Race to the Top program grants. Arizona is among 18 finalists.
“The class of 2007 and ’08 started school in the mid-1990s,” Benson said. “That’s the time in a student’s career that is so important to a student’s success, and that’s where the conversation should start.
“Early interventions and solid foundations are critical if we want our high-school graduates to be career-ready.”
The Apache Junction Unified School District has implemented a College Readiness For All program, based on technology and project-based learning, superintendent Chad Wilson said. The district is aiming to supply each student, beginning at the junior-high level, with a laptop computer.
The A.J. model replaces the traditional three Rs of education — “reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic” — with coursework that Wilson calls rigorous, relevant to real-world disciplines and based on a solid teacher-student relationship.
“What college readiness means to us is kids learning in a robust, project-based environment, where they are not just learning standards they regurgitate through memorization, but learning material in a real-world application way,” Wilson said. “So, when they go on past the 12th grade — whether it’s to college or in the workforce — they can use what they’ve learned. Our teachers need the kind of classrooms that will facilitate that.”
Standardized testing has played an issue in the readiness decrease, Garcia said, with the unintended consequence of student complacency. To graduate, students must pass the state’s AIMS test — which is a measure of student progress at the 10th-grade level, not college readiness.
“I’m seeing schools run into this struggle all the time,” Garcia said. “They struggle with getting students to take advanced course work to get them ready for college, because they are under the impression that, because they passed the standardized AIMS test, they are ready to graduate, ready to go to college.”
Wilson said schools and districts must be more proactive in informing students that there is still much room to grow, then challenging them.
“If (complacency) is a problem with the kid, it’s a problem with the adult as well,” Wilson said.
A breakdown of readiness percentages among schools and districts is available at http://arizonaindicators.org/pages/education/readiness/college-readiness.html.
“A district doesn’t have a choice to not focus on (college readiness) right now,” Benson said. “It has become the topic of conversation, at the local and national level.”