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Lemuel Todd Dr. Mason English 1101 15 June 2013 Less Prepared for College Today Are students truly less prepared for college today, or is that just another accusation of older generations? Well, this accusation may have more believability than “rock n’ roll is the devil!” In fact, statistics show that students are not as prepared for college today as they think they are, or as prepared as they should be. Two of the largest factors in this lack of preparation are grade inflation and the overuse – and misuse – of standardized testing. Many other people have wondered if today’s students are prepared for the college experience or not. Statistics from several sources indicate that they are, in fact, not prepared. We will look at some of these statistics. First, according to an article on the website for the National Conference for State Legislation, as much as 34% of students at public colleges and universities take remedial courses. ACT.org also shows that students are not prepared for college now: Valerie Strauss’ article covering the ACT scores for the class of 2011 in the Washing Post states that over a fourth of the students in the class of 2011 did not meet any of the achievement benchmarks. Knowing that students are ill-prepared for college, what are the causes? Why do these students think they are prepared when they are not? Grade inflation gives students a false

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image of high achievement, so they arrive to college and expect to be fine on the same effort that was used in high school. Grade inflation, however, is not the only way for students view of their own competency to be distorted; standardized testing can also give these students a lessthan-accurate view of themselves. The debate over the existence of grade inflation has been quite heated, especially in recent years. But what is grade inflation? What can be so bad about this phenomenon? Merriam-Webster defines grade inflation as a rise in the average grades assigned to students; especially the assigning of grades higher than previously assigned for given levels of achievement. If grade inflation is occurring, as many think it is, it could lead to a higher dropout rate in college due to students who were receiving high marks in high school not being immediately successful in college. In fact, Bryan Goodwin states that “30 percent of freshmen at U.S. four-year institutions drop out during or after their first year of college.” The “old college try” indeed. So grade inflation does have the potential to negatively affect students, but is inflation actually occurring? The answer is a resounding yes. Twenger and Campbell found that 32.8% of students report grades of A or A-minus versus only 18.6% in 1976 (1084). Although students report higher grade point averages, ACT.org reports findings that the GPA for specific ACT composite scores in 2003 than the GPA for the same composite score in 1976. They conclude that yes, the phenomenon of grade inflation is occurring. The other setback that today’s students face comes in the form of standardized testing.

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First, we need to define standardized testing. According to the Center for Public Education, standardized tests are large-scale tests given to student at the same time, under the same conditions, and are scored the in the same manner so students’ scores cannot be attributed to anything other than student performance. The Center for Public Education further considers many of the standardized tests taken by students today to be “high stakes.” Their determination of what makes a test high stakes is when the student’s performance on the test has consequences attached, i.e. failing to meet the benchmark for the test results in being held in the same grade as opposed to progressing to the next. Knowing now what a standardized test is, what are they used for? James Popham, from the University of California, Los Angeles, asserts that there are four appropriate uses for a standardized test. The first is “informing parents about their children’s relative achievement.” His second use is similar to the first, being “informing teachers about their students’ relative achievement.” Third is “selecting students for special programs.” Lastly, “allocating supplemental resources.” These tests are being used for other purposes, however. Because of this, these tests that could be helpful and useful assessments have transformed into monstrosities that can have a negative impact on students. Earlier, we defined what turns an ordinary standardized test into a high stakes test: the attachment of consequences to a student’s results. Many of the standardized tests administered to students today can be categorized as the latter. In many cases, students must pass these tests in order to move to the next grade level; in other cases, there are state required achievement levels in order to graduate from high school. But what effects can this high stakes testing have on students? The students subjected to these kinds of testing situation

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may experience higher stress levels. Because these are still standardized tests, however, a student who passes could get an inflated view of his or her own achievement, as we discussed earlier with grade inflation. If that student fails, though, it could mean being held back a grade, being put into remedial classes, or not graduating high school on time. Now that we have taken a look at some of the factors that are involved in the current education situation, it is obvious that students, although not entirely through their own fault, are less prepared for college than they should be. Some of that lack of preparations is owed to grade inflation and the overuse of standardized tests that has become the norm starting with the No Child Left Behind program. These issues need to be addressed, but it will take considerable time and complex planning to begin to correct the situation.