Expert: Most US College Freshmen Read at 7th Grade Level

AP Photo/David Wallis
AP Photo/David Wallis

The premise behind the Common Core State Standards is that all public school students will be college and career ready for the theoretical workforce of tomorrow. Even in Texas, which never adopted the Common Core, College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) drive public education today. Yet, what is called ‘college and career ready’ may not be preparing students at all because most US college freshman can only read at a seventh grade level.

Education expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky is the formidable figure on the front lines who is questioning what can be done to make sense of Common Core and all this college and career readiness.

She is best known for serving on the Common Core Validation Committee in 2009-10 and refusing to approve standards she called ‘inferior’, along with colleague James Milgram, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University.

She is also Professor Emerita at the University of Arkansas and is credited with developing one of the country’s strongest sets of academic standards for K-12 students when she was Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education (1999-2003). Stotsky was also responsible for revising or developing the licensure tests for prospective teachers.

She co-authored the 2008 Texas English Language Arts and Reading (ELA/R) standards, working with Susan Pimentel under a contract with StandardsWork, a company located in Washington, DC. Pimentel was later associated with Common Core.

One year ago, Stotsky told Breitbart News Sunday that from the get-go, the Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) was not a set of standards and that the mathematics standards left out the very standards necessary for preparing a kid for a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] career.

Breitbart Texas recently spoke with Stotsky, who said, “We are spending billions of dollars trying to send students to college and maintain them there when, on average, they read at about the grade 6 or 7 level, according to Renaissance Learning’s latest report on what American students in grades 9-12 read, whether assigned or chosen.”

She also pointed out that reading on a lower level of difficulty and complexity in high school is reflected in the lower reading level of books that colleges assign to incoming freshmen as summer reading.

Stotsky clarified, “The average reading level for five of the top seven books assigned as summer reading by 341 colleges using Renaissance Learning’s readability formula was rated 7.56.”

That means, a large number of college freshman are basically reading on a level of grade 7 at the sixth month mark.

Texas college and career ready public schools may or may not be reading on any higher level than their Common Core college and career ready counterparts.

For example, the Smithville Independent School District (ISD), assigned In the Country of Men to high school students. It was only on a reading level of 5.8 (grade 5, month 8).

While the book was challenged for its content, a few eyeballs should have been on the book’s low reading level.

In Fall 2014, Highland Park ISD in the Dallas area was the center of a brouhaha over its high school English class reading material.

The book level of one of the novels, The Art of Racing in the Rain, was 5.7. That means, grade 5, month 7. Another assigned book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, received a readability score of 4.0 (grade 4) using Renaissance Learning’s formula.

This is not even close to what students read at the same grade levels years ago, such as the classic satire Vanity Fair.

Stotsky raised a significant point — many colleges are not demanding a college level reading experience for incoming freshmen. “Nor are they sending a signal to the nation’s high schools that high school level reading is needed for college readiness,” she said.

She added, “Indeed, they seem to be suggesting that a middle school level of reading is satisfactory, even though most college textbooks and adult literary works written before 1970 require mature reading skills.”

However, colleges can’t easily develop college level reading skills if most students admitted to a post-secondary institution in this country read even high school level textbooks with difficulty, she continued. “Strong growth in reading starts in elementary school. And it must include student willingness to read regularly in and outside school, a practice that hinges on kids getting hooked on books,” she wrote in a Pioneer Institute article.

“For almost 100 years, there have been many surveys in this country of what children prefer to read. Despite changes in immigration patterns, family literacy, and cultural influences, what boys and girls like to read has been relatively stable,” she told Breitbart Texas.

She added that boys prefer adventure stories, military exploits, sports heroes, and historical nonfiction; while girls prefer books about people’s relationships and animal stories.  “As all teachers know, both love fantasy,” she said, citing the Harry Potter series as an example.

In 2006, the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) formed the Public Visioning Institute to meet 21st Century needs, claiming to foster creativity and innovation, a “thirst for learning” plus more meaningful assessments and accountability measures, according to their 2012 promotional video.

Today, TASA’s “high performance” consortium created through Senate Bill 1557 during the 82nd legislative session consists of 23 school districts. It was intended to act as a model where, former Coppell ISD Superintendent Jeff Turner touted, students would come to school engaged in the content and teachers would “become designer and facilitator of lessons.”

Their intention was to show that if they could “go in and create our own system and show they are performing at least as well, if not better than everyone else who in the system of test-test-test, then we can help the state understand that there is no need to test our kids every year in every subject,” according to Turner in the video.

However, Breitbart Texas reported on an increase of the public school campuses statewide that were identified as one of 1,199 failing or low performing schools because of poor test scores or unacceptable ratings on the 2014 Public Education Grant (PEG) list.

Twelve of TASA’s 23 high performance public school districts had campuses on that list.

Stotsky may have the solution that cuts across everyone’s college and career readiness standards.

She wrote, “We need to relabel them high school ready standards and give the so-called ‘college readiness’ tests based on them in grade 8, which is where they belong with respect to content and cut scores.”

Essentially, she said, the Common Core’s benchmarked testing was actually “a better indication of whether students can do authentic high school level work in grade 9 or 10 than of college level work.”

It is not just the ELA, either. Stotsky has been vocal that most of the nation’s high school graduates do not do much in mathematics beyond grade 8 compared with what students in high-achieving countries can do by the end of middle school.

In 2010, Stotsky co-authored The Emperor’s New Clothes — National Assessments Based on Weak “College and Career Readiness Standards with Ze’ev Wurman, former US Department of Education official under President George W. Bush.

They wrote, “There has been a striking lack of public discussion about the definition of college readiness (e.g., for what kind of college, for what majors, for what kind of credit-bearing freshman courses) and whether workplace readiness is similar to college-readiness (e.g., in what kind of workplaces, in the non-academic knowledge and skills needed).”

Makes one wonder what all this college and career ready education is for.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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