Stephanie Lewis and one of her students both cried when he graduated in the spring from South Pittsburg High School in Tennessee, where she teaches English.
He’d done something she admits she wasn’t sure he could: finish high school fully prepared to go right to college.
That’s a feat a surprising number of high school graduates fail to accomplish. Half a million, or about one in four, show up on campuses each fall not ready to take college courses in math or English, according to the advocacy organization Education Reform Now. In Tennessee, only 17 percent of public high school students score at college-ready levels in English, math, reading, and science on standardized tests.
It’s a little-noticed problem that forces these students to relearn material they should have already known, discouraging huge numbers of them from ultimately getting their degrees and costing the nation, by various estimates, between $1.5 billion and $7 billion a year.
But the idea of solving it in high school is as rare as it is seemingly obvious.
“This is how it should be done,” said Alexandra Logue, executive vice chancellor and university provost for the City University of New York, or CUNY, system. “It is, however, more complicated than it sounds. You have to have everyone agreeing on what the standards are. And there are timing issues. When do you find out the student needs this, and how does that connect with when you provide the support?”
High schools in many parts of the country are judged on the proportion of their students who graduate, whether or not those students are ready for college. Surprisingly, scoring “proficient” on state-mandated standardized tests required to receive high school diplomas, also does not necessarily mean that students are prepared for college-level work.