In Highlands Ranch, most classes by the start of a student’s senior year are college preparatory. That’s great for most of the student body, as a huge amount of students choose to continue on to some sort of higher education after receiving their diploma. (There are many who choose not to, who then still have to deal with the stress that goes along with the college selection process unnecessarily, but that’s a different story).
Throughout other school districts, however, administrators understand that a lot of students won’t be able to continue on to higher education in any of its forms, so they don’t care.
As of 2012, it was estimated that over 60 percent of high school graduates weren’t properly prepared for college.
Just last year, I met with Colorado’s Lieutenant Governor, Joseph Garcia, and spoke to him about standardized education and testing throughout the state of Colorado.
“It’s about recognizing that we have huge disparities. Middle-class, suburban, white kids do really well. Urban, minority and low-income kids don’t,” Garcia said. “We want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college. The only way for us to find out is to do assessments along the way and make course corrections.”
Garcia’s argument is that standardized testing is the only way for schools to understand where all students lay in terms of college readiness and statewide, or even nationwide, standards.
Unfortunately, this idea often doesn’t hold up. Tests are often accused of holding bias against certain races and ethnicities and certainly present different challenges to students of different socioeconomic classes.
Harold Berlak, an author and researcher, explains the issue behind testing in simple terms:
“Standardized testing perpetuates institutionalized racism and contributes to the achievement gap between whites and minorities. For instance, the deeply embedded stereotype that African Americans perform poorly on standardized tests hinders many African Americans’ testing ability. Also, research has shown that minorities statistically have lower standardized test scores than whites because of existing, hidden biases in the development and administration of standardized tests and interpretation of their scores. Therefore, the achievement gap will not begin to close until current standards and assessment tests are significantly reformed.”
Of course, the disparities between students of different races isn’t solely apparent in testing. Learning, above all, is also obviously affected by each individual’s learning environment. Research shows that school conditions has a larger impact on a student’s education than their family characteristics do.
This eliminates the idea that poor parenting or lifestyle is responsible for the lack of education and college readiness (though that statement is not to discount the family environment completely). The larger issues at hand include unemployment leading to the migration of highly qualified teachers to wealthier school districts. Teachers within more affluent school districts are more likely to have years of experience underneath their belts and often obtain degrees in the subject they teach.
Research often finds that funding within lower income school districts is skewed unevenly in comparison to wealthier districts. Since 2010, many Title I, low income schools have faced major funding cuts. Many statistics show that impoverished districts receive anywhere from 40 to 80 cents for every dollar given in a higher income district.
This idea is startling because the students that need more are often given less than those who aren’t necessarily in need. Mainly because of the way by which schools are funded (by local and property taxes), it makes sense that higher income areas have wealthier school districts. The lack of intervention from states is what causes the massive disparities, as nothing is in place to ensure that excess funding is redirected at poorer districts.
So, while more than nine out of 10 Mountain Vista High School graduates will immediately continue on to college, nationwide enrollment is decreasing. Around 65 percent of all high school graduates will enroll in college (only 59 percent of which will graduate).
Here, we may not face the issue of leaving future preparation out of education; but throughout our entire society, it is a prevalent problem, especially in a world where education is becoming one of the most expensive necessities.