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

5 Comments to “Even in affluent areas, many high school graduates are not ready for college”

  1. Unprepared students leads to watered down colleges. See this article from today’s NYTimes


  2. Teaching at a college where about half the students come from Catholic schools, I can say Catholic education is no panacea. They write just as poorly, and are just as innumerate, as their public school peers. Personally, I think 2,3,6, and 8 are most important.


  3. CSProf — Your comment about watered down colleges reminded me that I had meant to include this from the article:

    There has been enormous debate over the accuracy of the state’s various measures for “career and college readiness.” Many local school officials have noted, for instance, that while their students performed poorly on the state’s new Common Core-based tests for grades 3 to 8, their graduates regularly perform well at top-tier colleges.

    Essentially, the school’s defense is that those tests don’t mean much because even students who perform poorly on state tests can be successful in top-tier colleges.


  4. 1. Their argument is anecdotal. I see kids with 450 math SATs who manage to get through the CS major, and kids with 750’s who bomb out. But I bet if I looked at large numbers of kids over time, I would see correlation between the math SAT score (and probably the verbal as well ) with performance in the CS major. There are always exceptions and anecdotes mean little.They need to correlate the tests to performance in college over a large number of kids, and that will take time of course.

    2. In NY, CC aligned tests were rolled out last year. Thus, there should be one cohort who has now completed a first year in college, after taking a CC aligned test ONCE, having not gone through the CC curriculum. From that sample, there is absolutely no way to tell the predictive capability of the new tests over time.


  5. I think the pre-CC Regents tests are valid, and this is what the college-readiness scale is based on. I’m sure “top-tier” means top 100-200 ranked colleges, which really doesn’t mean very much. And on top of that, they don’t track post-college information so they have no way to back that up. Yes, anecdotal and a weak argument.


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