Missouri finishes work on new college readiness standards

About one-quarter of Missouri high school graduates were "college ready" by one standardized test.
Casey Purcella / Graphic Designer

A higher education task force determined new state standards of what it means to be college-ready that will apply to all state colleges and universities.

These standards were recently set by the task force in order to close gaps between what Missouri high school districts require for their students to graduate and what colleges are looking for in their incoming freshmen.

The Missouri Department of Higher Education said a higher education task force finished work on the standards last week. A 2007 education law called for the development of new criteria.

Ted Tarkow, MU assistant dean of Arts and Science, said even if the state has standards for what kinds of things a student should learn to be generally college ready, MU would still have more rigorous admissions standards for incoming freshmen than other state institutions.

"We are a research institution that I think has a certain right to have higher academic expectations," he said. "That said, I think that for the state, in general, to raise the bar for what it means to be college-ready is a good thing."

Rusty Monhollon, the department's assistant commissioner for academic affairs, said the standards are the first of their kind for the state. He said the state's college and universities each had their own standards for what qualifies a student as college-ready, but the lack of consistency led to gaps in the degree of preparedness between students who graduate from different school districts.

"There really hasn't been anything in place prior to this," he said.

Monhollon said assessments for the new standards likely will not be in place until the 2014 to 2015 school year because tests are being developed to accurately measure whether students meet the new standards.

About 26 percent of Missouri high school graduates who took the ACT examination in 2010 earned high enough scores in all four core subject areas of English, math, reading and science to indicate that they are likely ready for college-level work.

That figure is slightly higher than the national average of 24 percent of students who meet the benchmarks in all four ACT standards.

But Bob Wise, the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Excellent Education, said he thinks both marks could be much higher.

Wise, who is also a former West Virginia governor, said Missouri's new standards could also reduce the number of students who need remedial courses, college classes that re-teach concepts students need to know before taking college classes but which do not count toward a student's degree progress.

"Remediation is the taxpayer and the student paying twice," Wise said, because students have to pay for the courses with money they could have used on college-level classes and because taxpayers have already paid for the student's public education in that subject in high school.

MU students taking Mathematics 0110, for example, will have to pay for that course, but cannot count it toward the math requirements for graduation.

Tarkow said he didn't know whether the new standards would bring down enrollment in the remedial pre-algebra class and said enrollment has been consistent for several years. He said the course does help students get passing grades in future college-level math courses.

"Having spoken to a number of students who have taken that course, I think our success with that course tends to be pretty decent," he said.

About 717 students are enrolled in 23 sections of the remedial math course this semester, according to enrollment figures available on MyZou. Students take the course before entering a college-level algebra class.

"That's why it's so important that the K-12 and college educators have coordinated about what college readiness really means," Wise said. "The important thing that Missouri has done is it took the opportunity to have that interaction."

Monhollon acknowledged that aligning standards between high schools and colleges could reduce the number of students who need remedial courses. But he said the department's primary aim is to make sure that students from all parts of the state are equally ready for coming college work when they are handed their high school diploma.

"One of the goals is to kind of remove that gap so that students graduate prepared for college," he said. "I think another is to provide a clear picture of what is now going to be expected of a student when they start college."

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