The State University system spends $70 million a year on remediation — i.e. teaching incoming students what they needed to learn in high school to make them college-ready, but didn’t. And the students themselves have to spend time and money, usually borrowed, to take non-credit courses to get them up to snuff. It’s a waste, and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher wants to do something about it.
Ideally, that something would be to make sure every student applying for admission to college could handle the work.
Unfortunately, that is far from the current reality. While the graduation rate statewide is 74 percent, just 34 percent of graduates are college-ready, according to the state Education Department. This despite their passing grades on local exams, standardized tests and Regents, and all the talk of higher standards. Obviously, plenty of kids just get pushed along and told they should go to college and are ready for it — even if they probably shouldn’t, and aren’t.
Zimpher’s proposed remedy is a test for high-schoolers to take at the end of their sophomore year so they and their teachers can identify deficiencies and start correcting them before graduation. She says she and Education Commissioner John King will work together, meeting once a month, until a test can be developed.
The Education Department has already done some things to assess, and improve, college-readiness. It has made a minimum score of 75 on English and math Regents exams the yardstick, compared to a passing grade of 65. And it’s moving toward a common core curriculum, which will ensure that students in all schools cover the same basic material and are taught the same basic skills.
But two Regents exam scores are a pretty crude, limited measure, especially since they are curved. And the common core curriculum is still being developed.
Zimpher’s test, even though it would be yet another test students had to take, could be more than a diagnostic tool. It could be a wake-up call, a spur for students to keep working rather than cruise, as upperclassmen, particularly seniors, often do.
For others, who haven’t the ability or real desire to go to college, it could be encouragement to take vocational courses, go to vocational school, join the military, learn a trade. There’s nothing wrong with that, although the trend in recent years has been to act as if college is the only path to success.
It can lead to success, provided one finishes (and many remediated students do not); but even then, as the large number of recent college graduates who are either unemployed or not working in their chosen field show, it’s no guarantee. High school students need a broader range of options, and colleges need to stop accepting those who aren’t ready for college work.