Archive for ‘before college’

June 27, 2014

Even in affluent areas, many high school graduates are not ready for college

by Grace

Even in one of the most prosperous and highly educated counties in the United States, less than half of high school graduates are ready for college.

Only 48% of Westchester County high school graduates are prepared to do college-level work.  This measure is based on students scoring “at least 75 on their English Regents exam and at least 80 on a math Regents exam”.

For my local high school, located in Westchester County, 64% of graduates are considered college ready.  This is a school district that spends about $25,000 per student each year and enjoys a student/teacher ratio of 14:1.

Using AP participation figures, US News determined that my local high school has a College Readiness Index of 44.5

On a national basis “SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college’”, so it appears this problem is not limited to high schools near me.

Are these college readiness numbers surprising?  Should they be higher, given the resources being devoted to education?  Or is it unrealistic to expect higher percentages of college-ready high school graduates, even in some of the most affluent areas of the country?

Some possible reasons for the low number of high school graduates who are prepared to do college-level work:

  1. The measures are flawed and do not give an accurate representation.
  2. Teaching and/or curriculum is mediocre, or worse.
  3. Schools do no place sufficient focus on academic goals, specifically on preparing students for college.
  4. We’re not spending enough on education.
  5. The money we spend on education is used inefficiently.
  6. No matter the demographics and despite how much a school tries, a certain percentage of high school graduates will never be ready for college work.
  7. “Kids these days.”
  8. Parents are not doing enough to support their children’s education.

I dismiss the first reason listed, having some familiarity with the New York State tests used to measure college readiness.  A high school student on the college-prep track should definitely be able to meet the scores required.  These tests are notoriously easy and/or graded on a very forgiving curve.

Achievement levels do not correlate closely with money spent on education, so I cannot see #4 being an important reason.

The rest of the listed reasons probably play some role in creating the disappointingly low college-readiness figures.  In theory, schools have the most control over remedying reasons 2, 3, and 5.  In practice, most experiments innovations that schools implement only seem to make things worse.

———

Gary Stern and Dwight Worley, “Local high school grads not up to more ambitious state goals”, The Journal News, June 23, 2014.

Graduation Rate Data – June 23, 2014, New York State Education Department

June 26, 2014

More students are receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT tests

by Grace

Some recent numbers show the increase in students receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT testing.

During the 2010-11 school year, 5 percent of all test takers were provided with some feature that was intended to adapt the test to their needs, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said, compared with 3.5 percent of test takers in the 2007-08 school year.

The numbers of requests have been rising among SAT takers, too, along with an increase in test takers overall. Once students are approved for an accommodation, they don’t have to reapply. Of new requests—almost 80,000 during the 2010-11 school year, compared with 10,000 fewer five years earlier—about 85 percent are approved, said Kathleen Steinberg, the spokeswoman for the College Board. The ACT said roughly 90 percent of requests made are granted.

Rich kids are more likely to receive accommodations.

Controversy has swirled for years about which students deserve special help. A 2000 California audit concluded that those getting college entrance testing accommodations “were disproportionately white, or were more likely to come from an affluent family or to attend a private school.”

More than a decade later, the Tribune’s review of data obtained under open records laws indicates that’s true in Illinois, where the percentage of test takers with accommodations doubled the national average.

Schools in wealthy enclaves with predominantly white students were at the top of the list when it comes to students getting ACT testing accommodations in Illinois, the 2011 data show.

A recent report from the General Accountability Office found that testing for qualifying disabilities “can cost from $500 to $9,000″.  Wealthy families can afford to pay these costs when the schools will not.  They also tend to have the expertise and money to force schools to pay for legally required testing.

One local affluent school district recently had a long list of applications for accommodations that was waiting to be submitted, probably typical for high-income locales.

The most commonly requested accommodation is extended time, but some others include “a quiet testing room, a reader or a scribe, enlarged print test booklets and/or answer keys, the use of a computer, additional or extended breaks, and multiple-day testing on the ACT”

———

Nirvi Shah, “More Students Receiving Accommodations During ACT, SAT”, Education Week, May 14, 2012.

 Diane Rado, “Many Illinois high school students get special testing accommodations for ACT”, Chicago Tribune,  April 29, 2012.

Jed Applerouth, “SAT and ACT Accommodations”, Independent Educational Consultants Association, April 9, 2014.

June 25, 2014

Some college majors offer ‘more shelter from economic storms than others’

by Grace

Picking the “right” college major shields graduates from some of the bad luck of graduating during a recession.

… Those who major in subjects that command higher salaries, like engineering and finance, increase their earnings advantage when they graduate into a recession. And those who major in subjects that lead to lower-paying jobs, like philosophy and music, are even more disadvantaged than in normal economic times.

A philosophy major takes a harder hit than a finance major during a recession.

Take finance majors. In normal economic times, they earn 24 percent more than the average college major when they are one year out of college. But in a recession, they earn 32 percent more than the average. At the other end of the earnings spectrum, religion and philosophy majors earn 42 percent less than the average major their first year out of college, and 55 percent less during a recession.

But the latest recession hit all graduates more than previous ones did.

In the Great Recession, though, the benefits to high-earning majors were muted, according to the most recent data collected by the Yale economists Lisa Kahn, Joseph Altonji and Jamin Speer. They were less sheltered because the recession affected the economy so broadly, Ms. Kahn said.

Should this news affect the selection of a college major?  Yes.

… yet another variable for students to keep in mind as they weigh which career to pursue.

Related:  “Recent college graduates suffering worst unemployment rates in 50 years” (Cost of College)

———

Claire Cain Miller, “A College Major Matters Even More in a Recession”, New York Times, June 20, 2014.

June 2, 2014

Let’s be clear, going to college is not always ‘worth it’

by Grace

There has been pushback on David Leonhardt’s message that going to college is “clearly” a smart economic choice.

 

Matthew Yglesias is critical of Leonhardt’s conclusion.

… I don’t see how this kind of data can possibly support the wide-ranging conclusions Leonhardt draws about whether or not college is “worth it.” After all, this isn’t the outcome of a randomized trial.

Maybe everyone should buy a BMW.20140531.COCBMW2

Suppose I got someone to make a chart showing the incomes of prime-age BMW drivers versus average Americans. It would reveal a large BMW earnings premium. I could even produce a chart showing that the children of BMW drivers grow up to earn more than the average American. But that wouldn’t be evidence that BMWs cause high wages, and that the BMW Earnings Premiums extends across multiple generations. It would be evidence that high-income people buy expensive cars and that there’s intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic status.

To understand whether college is “worth it” — or, more precisely, which colleges are worth it to which students — we would need some much more fine-grained data. How do college graduates fare in the labor market compared to people who were otherwise similar at age 18 in terms of SAT scores, non-cognitive skills, parental socioeconomic status, etc?

Yglesias sees a need for better apples-to-apples comparisons.

Ben Casselman points out that you have to graduate to reap the benefits of going to college.

But just because people who graduate from college are better off doesn’t necessarily mean that going to college is a good decision. Most of the benefits of college come from graduating, not enrolling. Indeed, as Leonhardt pointed out, the wage premium for people with some college but no degree has been stagnant, even as debt levels have been rising. That means that people who start college but drop out may be worse off than people who never enrolled in the first place. Any attempt to answer the “Is college worth it?” question, therefore, has to grapple with not only the value of a degree, but the likelihood of obtaining one.

For many students, the odds aren’t good. Less than 60 percent of full-time students who are enrolled in college for the first time graduate within six years. Part-time students have an even lower completion rate, as do racial minorities and older and low-income students. For some groups, the six-year graduation rate is well under 20 percent. The vast majority of Americans from advantaged backgrounds enroll in college, so the students struggling with the “Should I or shouldn’t I?” question are disproportionately members of groups with low graduation rates.

Marginal students in particular may not find that going to college is clearly a superior choice, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Leonhardt’s analysis ignores the dispersion in pay among college grads, especially among men. Research by my colleague John Schmitt and Heather Boushey shows that near one in five recent male college grads earned less than the average high school grad. This implies that going to college implies substantial risks, especially since attending college is likely to lead to substantial debt. There is also a risk that a student will not complete college, which is especially likely for the marginal college student (a person at the edge of deciding whether to try college or not). It is also likely that the marginal college student faces a much higher risk of being in this bottom fifth than the typical college student. In short, a little deeper analysis indicates that the decision of many people, especially young men, not to attend college could seem very rational.

Bryan Caplan reminds us that the college premium must be deconstructed to determine its value for a particular individual who plans to pursue a particular field of study.

———

Matthew Yglesias, “College graduates earn more, but that doesn’t prove college is worth it”, Vox, May 27, 2014.

Ben Casselman, “Is College Worth It? It Depends on Whether You Graduate”, FiveThirtyEight, May 27, 2014.

May 7, 2014

College financial aid advice for mothers going through a divorce

by Grace

Forbes contributor Jeff Landers answers a few of the most common questions that women going through a divorce have about college financial aid. First, he explains which parent should file the FAFSA.  (The answer is the custodial parent.)  Then he explains why this matters.

Why does it matter who completes the form?

The FAFSA contains many detailed questions about a student’s family’s income and assets. The responses are entered into a formula that determines the Expected Family Contribution – in short, how much money you will be expected to come up with toward your child’s college expenses.

If you are the custodial parent, it’s your income and assets that go on the form. So if, for example, your ex-husband makes $500,000 a year in his business, and you make a tenth that much working part time from home, your child would likely be eligible for more financial aid if the eligibility is determined based on your income alone.

If the custodial parent remarries, the new spouse’s income and assets have to be listed on the FAFSA. Unfortunately, while it may not seem fair, that can lower your child’s eligibility for financial aid.

In his next answer, Landers goes on to shed light on the sometimes confusing details of non-federal financial aid.  Click on the link at the top of this post to see all the questions and answers.

Related:  Divorced or absent fathers are let off the hook in paying for their kids’ college (Cost of College) 

April 25, 2014

Decline in teen birth rate

by Grace

The teen birth rate in the U.S. is at a record low, dropping below 30 births per 1,000 teen females for the first time since the government began collecting consistent data on births to teens ages 15-19, according to National Center for Health Statistics data.

20140424.COCTeenPregnancyRates1

Why is the teen birth rate falling?

In addition to the correlation between declining birth rates and a distressed economy, other reasons have emerged.

 … Less sex, more contraception and more information.

For one thing, there has been a significant decline in the percentage of never-married teenage females who ever had sex, from 51% in 1988 to 43% in 2006-2010, according to National Survey of Family Growth data. Furthermore, among never-married teens who have had sex, 78% used a contraceptive method the first time they had sex, 86% used contraception during their most recent sex and 20% used dual methods (e.g., a hormonal method and a condom) during their most recent sex, all significant increases since 1988.

Pregnancy prevention programs and messages directed to teens may also have played a role. A recent Brookings report found that the MTV programs 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, reality TV shows that follow the struggles of teen mothers, may have contributed to up to a third of the decline in teen births since they began airing in 2009.

Teen abortion rate has also dropped.

But teen pregnancy rates have fallen, too, over the past 20 years. Looking at data reaching back to 1976, the pregnancy rate peaked among teens ages 15-19 in 1990, at 116.8, and has fallen 44% since then. The abortion rate among females ages 15-19 has also fallen over roughly the same time period—from 43.5 per 1,000 teens in 1988 to 16.3 in 2009. Of the roughly 700,000 pregnancies among teens in 2009, about 58% are estimated to have ended in live births, 25% in abortions and 17% in miscarriages or stillbirths.

The marriage status of teen mothers has changed dramatically since 1960.

… Back in 1960, most teen mothers were married—an estimated 15% of births to mothers ages 15-19 were to unmarried teens. Today, it has flipped:  89% of births are to unmarried mothers in that age group.

———

Eileen Patten, “Why is the teen birth rate falling?”, Pew Research Center, April 21, 2014.

April 17, 2014

Teenage boys lag behind girls in developing ‘critical social skills’

by Grace

According to a six-year Dutch study, teenage boys are slower to develop two social skills.

Cognitive empathy — “the mental ability to take others’ perspective”

Affective empathy — “the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings”

In adolescence, critical social skills that are needed to feel concern for other people and understand how they think are undergoing major changes. Adolescence has long been known as prime time for developing cognitive skills for self-control, or executive function.

“Cognitive empathy,” or the mental ability to take others’ perspective, begins rising steadily in girls at age 13, according to a six-year study published recently in Developmental Psychology. But boys don’t begin until age 15 to show gains in perspective-taking, which helps in problem-solving and avoiding conflict.

Adolescent males actually show a temporary decline, between ages 13 and 16, in a related skill—affective empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings, according to the study, co-authored by Jolien van der Graaff, a doctoral candidate in the Research Centre Adolescent Development at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Fortunately, the boys’ sensitivity recovers in the late teens. Girls’ affective empathy remains relatively high and stable through adolescence.

Affective and cognitive empathy are valuable skills in the school setting, and these gender differences could help explain why boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college”.

The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.

Testosterone and social pressure may both be determining factors.

The decline in affective empathy among young teenage boys may spring at least partly from a spurt during puberty in testosterone, sparking a desire for dominance and power …

Boys also feel pressure from peers and some adults to “act like a man,” which they often define as being detached, tough, funny and strong …

How much do fathers matter?

Fathers seem to play a special role. Teens whose fathers are supportive, who say they feel better after talking over their worries with their dads, are more skilled at perspective-taking, says a 2011 study of 15- to 18-year-old boys in Developmental Psychology.

Ambiguous terminology in the use of “cognitive” and “noncognitive” can be confusing.  The term”noncognitive” seems to vary in meaning depending on context.  Daniel Willingham helps explain how it is sometimes used as shorthand for what many people consider “non-academic” skills.

“Non-cognitive factors” is a misleading but entrenched catch-all term for factors such as motivation, grit, self-regulation, social skills. . . in short, mental constructs that we think contribute to student success, but that don’t contribute directly to the sorts of academic outcomes we measure, in the way that, say, vocabulary or working memory do.

Boys can try to catch up to girls.

I keep hearing that boys tend to shape up and mature after freshman year in high school.  That has not been my observation, but even if they do this just means they have to catch up to girls in a few short years or else suffer long-term consequences from getting off track in their early teen years.

——

Sue Shellenbarger, “Teens Are Still Developing Empathy Skills”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 15, 2013.

April 16, 2014

How to talk to your kids about paying for college

by Grace

When should parents have the “talk” with their children?

Of course, I mean the talk about how their college education will be financed.  According to comments in a recent College Confidential thread, fourteen is too early and 12th grade is too late.  And just like sex education, kids should not be hit with everything all at once.

It’s like the sex talk … Tell them a little at a time in chunks they can understand.

“Parents of High School Juniors: Talk Finances NOW” is the title of the thread, and the original poster wants families to avoid the disappointment that sometimes occurs this time of year for high school seniors.

If you are the parent of a high school junior who will be applying to colleges next year, now is the time to take a close look at what you will be willing and able to pay toward your kid’s college education–and to make sure your kid understands it. You may never have told your kid about your family’s finances–now, you must do so, even if you’d rather not. Don’t be the subject of a thread next year when your kid says, “My parents told me I could apply to any college I wanted and they’d make it work, but now they’re saying I have to go to the relatively undesirable college that’s giving me a scholarship.”

So, look at some price calculators on college websites, get financial advice, think about whether your kid will have to have scholarships, what you feel comfortable borrowing (if anything), what you will expect your kid to contribute, whether you will expect your kid to pay back any of the money you spend on education, etc. And share the result with your kid. There should be no unpleasant surprises when acceptances come in next year–at least, there should be no surprising changes in your position.

In US News, Ryan Lane outlines a series of steps in planning for the talk.  It’s important to set clear expectations, and he even suggests putting it in writing to instill a better understanding.  Whatever else they do, parents should avoid the mistake of making a vague and uninformed promise that “we’ll find a way to pay” for college.

One way to begin the process is to run a few Net Price Calculators for some prospective colleges, including both private and public institutions.  It can serve as a reality check in laying the groundwork for the big talk.

April 10, 2014

‘College and career ready’ students should be reading at a 1450 Lexile

by Grace

Paige Jaeger, Coordinator of School Library Services for WSWHE BOCEs in New York, offers the basics of Lexiles 101, including how they fit into Common Core Standards.

  • The Common Core has defined where “college and career ready” (CCR) students should be reading and it’s a 1450  Lexile.  Therefore, they scaffolded in reverse levels to graduate students at the appropriate level.  These Lexile levels are more difficult than where typical students are reading.
  • Lexile is an algorithm. It is a mathematical assessment of a linguistic product. 
  • Lexiles (and other readability statistics) are fallible. (For instance, it is not valid for prose or drama and is less valid for fiction in 1000+ Lexile range.) 
  • The parent organization to the CCSS, (CCSSO formally called the Governor’s convention) recently released a white paper verifying the validity of text complexity. Therefore, we have to pay attention to this essential shift to embrace “rigor” in reading.
  • To read the recent white paper from the Council of Chief State School Officers click here. This article compares a number of algorithms and the summarizes text complexity for the CCSS. 
  • Text complexity formulas were meant for instructional purposes.
  • Pleasure reading should be allowed at any level and this is validated in the Common Core, Appendix A, page 9, paragraph 1:

CCS does not require teachers to select texts based only on complexity.

The Common Core has asked teachers to evaluate classroom materials for quality as well as quantity.  Complexity is only one piece of the puzzle. In addition, a teacher, librarian, or educator, has to pay attention to:

  •  Complexity - Lexile, vocabulary
  •  Qualitative measures -value
  •  Reader and the task -is there enough in the text to foster good discussion, value -added assignments, and begin a knowledge exploration. How can I use this novel or passage to foster critical thinking skills?

Jaeger writes that “Microsoft Word’s Flesch-Kincaid measure has also been proven valid”.  That’s good to know since I find it is a handy tool to use in assessing writing.

Related:  High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books (Cost of College)

March 7, 2014

What is the most important secret for a SAT ‘Perfect Score’?

by Grace

20140304.COCPerfectScoreProject1The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by my friend Debbie Stier is described as “one of the most compulsively readable guides to SAT test prep ever”.

As it climbs the charts in popularity, this book is attracting praise as “a toolbox of fresh tips”, as well as some criticism that it is the work of a “hyperprotective, status-seeking” helicopter mom.  The criticism seems to stem mainly from some selective editing in the book’s promotion, and clarification is provided over at Kitchen Table Math.  While there’s no doubt that Debbie is a very involved parent, I can attest that she does not fit the image of an overbearing, pushy mother.  In fact, she has helped me in gaining better insight into the type of supportive parenting that is instrumental in launching children to a satisfying and independent adult life.

The revamped SAT may change some details on the best ways to prepare for the test, but I believe that one of Debbie’s core messages will endure:

… if you have a solid foundation, test prep, great test prep works. if you don’t have a solid foundation, no amount of test prep can help you.

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