February 15, 2011

Are You (1) Ready for College or (2) Not?

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On Feb 7, a headline in the New York Times proclaimed “Most New York Students Are Not College-Ready.” The article, written by Sharon Otterman, went on to state, “The new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009.” This then begs the question, what exactly does “college-ready” mean?

The Times article explains that according to collected data, scores of 75 on English and 80 on math Regents tests generally imply the ability to earn a C in college-level courses. But the standard measure of “college-readiness” seems too standardized. This poses a number of problems for both the individual and for the health of society as a whole.

The Comprehensive English Regents Examination, as can be viewed at nysedregents.org, consists of a number of passages and multiple-choice comprehension questions. A score of 75 on this test supposedly means the student will have an average college success rate. However, after taking a number of college English courses, I have yet to encounter an assignment requiring me to qualify the author’s feelings about his grandfather as:

(1) indifferent (3) troubled

(2) admiring (4) envious

Rather, college courses —not just in English and the humanities — require students to take the material presented and interpret it in a critical and original way.

Granted, the English Regents Examination includes a sample essay and two short response questions, but these inevitably emphasize the technical ability to format an essay according to standardized guidelines over original and complex thought. The ability to present ideas should be viewed as a necessary tool to express ideas, but certainly not the ultimate goal of a high school education.

This Times article poses a number of other disconcerting questions as well. The article states, “State and city education officials have known for years that graduating from a public high school does not indicate that a student is ready for college.” How, then, are high school students supposed to get ready for college? And college-readiness isn’t the only goal public high schools are failing to meet — the article also discusses the lack of job-readiness of high school graduates. The problem seems to be that New York public high schools do not adequately prepare students for life after high school. But their solution to the problem, more standardized testing, only feeds the problem.

Fundamental to any government system in which citizens get to vote is the right to an education. If the people have the ability to influence their society, the people must also be educated about that society. This involves the ability to think critically and develop opinions based on presented information — skills that standardized tests are less than adequate at fostering. Further, more importance placed on standardized testing means less importance placed on creativity and originality. Essentially, the education system will devalue individual thought and replace it with concern over choosing the one right answer — a future that looks pretty dismal.

While it’s incredibly fortunate to be able to attend college, this need not be the ultimate goal. However, in a system where schooling is mandatory, the schooling should be meaningful. The public school system should consider why public school exists at all: The government has a responsibility to grant every citizen access to the resources needed to participate, and succeed, in a democratic society.

Critical analysis of a situation can only make you better at any job. The notion that we can build a society of adults who know how to extract facts rather than interpret them individually is scary and absurd. Human standardization is the last thing a society that is founded on the notion that citizens get a say can use. Instead, learning to get the same answers as everybody else will lead us towards a future more and more like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

College and job preparedness should be a given result of a high-school education. However, we should remember to ask, what does being ready entail? Measuring this readiness in terms of standardized test scores and reducing students to mere numbers won’t make us smarter. Curriculums geared towards raising these standards won’t teach students more, it will just make them easier to count. While there must be some way for public school systems to be held accountable, the judge of success and consequent crux of curriculums cannot depend on multiple-choice tests. Instead, the public school system should work to create an environment where engagement and curiosity are fostered — perhaps by focusing the curriculum around something that students recognize as meaningful. It’s certainly hard to find a whole lot of significance in meticulously answering a, b, c or d.

Ruby Perlmutter is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Sun Arts and Entertainment Editor. She may be contacted at rperlmutter@cornellsun.com. Having Said That appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Ruby Perlmutter