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COLLEGE DREAMS LIKELY TO FADE FOR MANY STUDENTS: High School Sophomores Have High Hopes but Low Math and Reading Scores

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"This report shows that we as a society have done an excellent job of selling the dream of attending college," said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

Nearly three-fourths of the nation’s high school students plan to get a bachelor’s degree or higher. But over 50 percent of students who held that expectation could not read at a proficient level, and over 80 percent could not perform intermediate-level math, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The NCES also found that only about half of students are enrolled in a college preparatory program. The report, A Profile of the American High School Sophomore in 2002, surveyed tenth graders during the spring term of the 2001-02 school year and examined the cohort’s sociodemographic characteristics, school experiences, tested achievement in reading and math, and educational expectations and plans.

“This report shows that we as a society have done an excellent job of selling the dream of attending college,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. “But we have to make sure that we are preparing high school students to succeed once they get in the door.”

The 2002 sophomore cohort had high educational expectations: 36 percent expected to graduate from a four-year program while an additional 36 percent expected to obtain a master’s degree (20 percent) or a PhD, MD, or other advanced doctoral or professional degree (16 percent). Only about 10 percent expected to take some college classes, and 8 percent of the cohort expected to complete only high school or less.

However, given the relatively few number of students who scored at high levels in math and reading, the 2002 sophomore cohort needed to make up quite a lot of ground to be considered ready for college, as the chart below demonstrates.

college dreams

 

SourceA Profile of the American High School Sophomore in 2002

In the chart above, reading levels represent the following skill sets:
(1) simple reading comprehension;
(2) ability to make relatively simple inferences beyond the author’s main thought and/or to understand and evaluate abstract concepts; and
(3) ability to make complex inferences or evaluative judgments that require piecing together multiple sources of information from the passage.

Math levels represent the following skill sets:
(1) simple arithmetical operations on whole numbers;
(2) simple operations with decimals, fractions, powers, and roots;
(3) simple problemsolving requiring the understanding of low-level mathematical concepts;
(4) understanding of intermediate-level mathematical concepts and/or multistep solutions to word problems; and
(5) complex multistep word problems and/or advanced mathematics material.

 

After the sophomores of 2002 complete or leave high school, they will continue to be the focus of researchers’ attention. In 2006, a new study will examine the educational and labor market activities of those who drop out of high school, the transition of students who do not proceed directly to postsecondary education or the workplace, and the students’ persistence in attaining educational goals, among other matters.

The complete report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2005338.

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