How well did their high school academic experience prepare students for college? Not very well, according to a new study by the College Board that’s highlighted in this week’s Education News.

Entitled “One Year Out: Findings from a National Survey Among Members of the High School Graduating Class of 2010,” the findings explore how recent high school graduates view their high school experience and its role in preparing them for college, work, or whatever “their next step in life” was. Over 1,500 respondents from the Class of 2010 were interviewed, either by phone or online.

An overwhelming 90% of respondents agree with the statement “In today’s world, high school is not enough, and nearly everybody needs to complete some kind of education or training after high school.” Almost three-quarters of respondents had sought further education beyond high school: 45% of respondents had enrolled in a four-year college after high school, 25% had enrolled in a two-year college, and 6% had enrolled in a trade or training school program.

Among the students surveyed who had just completed their freshman year of college, nearly 25% had been required to take non-credit remedial courses during their freshman year. And 54% reported that their university coursework was “more difficult than expected in terms of what students needed to know and what was required to get good grades.”

According to Liz Dwyer’s analysis of the study in Good Education, these results may reflect too-low expectations for high school graduation. Most high school students only need to take four years of English and two years each of math and science to graduate. Dwyer points out that kids can graduate high school having taken math only in 9th and 10th grades, or having taken no English classes that emphasized writing.

Reflecting the validity of this issue, 44% of students surveyed wished they’d taken “more math, science and writing-intensive courses” to prepare them for life beyond high school. Respondents who went on to college, especially those who felt they were struggling or who needed remedial classes, voiced these regrets most often.

Dwyer questions why states don’t require more math, writing and science – as well as more social studies and foreign language classes. “Why isn’t there a class dedicated to teaching the fundamentals of writing?” she rightly asks. Fully 69% of survey respondents (including those who didn’t go to college) felt high school graduation requirements were “very” or “pretty” easy, with 37% saying it should be more challenging to earn a high school diploma.

Of course, not all high school students go to college, and public high schools need to meet the needs of a wide range of learners besides those that are college-bound. Perhaps part of the problem is simply a mismatch between reality and expectations. Close to half the students surveyed also report that, given what they now know, they wish they’d been more motivated in high school. Many who went on to college no doubt believed it would be easier than it turned out to be.

Surely teachers and tutors can help students prepare mentally for the higher level of effort that college requires. Likewise, educators can guide college-focused high school students toward a higher academic standard than what it takes to graduate, including advanced placement classes. Some kids may even have the opportunity to take community college or college courses while still in high school, perhaps with the support of a tutor.

You can read a synopsis of the survey and/or download a PDF of the complete survey here.

Please comment and share how you feel about these results. Are they surprising to you? And how relevant do you feel they are to the raging debate on high school curriculum?

Featured photo courtesy of Jessica.Tam.

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