Reports Show Texas Students Aren't Being Prepared For College


Report lead authors George Moore and Julie Combs
Educational leadership and counseling professors George Moore and Julie Combs served as lead authors for two reports that found that Texas students are grossly underprepared for college based on an indicator system used by the state.

Less than one-third of all Texas high school students graduate prepared for college, and those numbers get even lower for minority students, according to two studies by a team of Sam Houston State University educational leadership and counseling department professors.

Approximately 32 percent of all students were deemed “college ready” in the 2006-2007 study based on standards for English-language arts and mathematics set forth by the Texas Education Agency, the researchers said.

While almost 41 percent of white students were labeled “college ready” in the two subjects, only 22 percent of Hispanic and 17 percent of African Americans examined were found to be “college ready.”

These statistics are the result of the work of six professors who analyzed the TEA’s data, released annually around November, into studies of gender and ethnicity for two separate reports.

The 2006-2007 data, the first released by the state, result from the Academic Excellence Indicator System that bases college preparedness on math and language arts by students’ scores on either the exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), the SAT or the ACT tests.

In order to be college ready, students must score higher than 2200 on the TAKS test in math and language arts, and have an essay score of three or higher; score a 500 or higher on critical reading and math on the SATs, for a total score higher than 1070; or score a 19 or higher on English and math on the ACTs, for a total composite score of higher than 23. The system also considers things such as participation in Advanced Placement or dual enrollment courses.

Texas College Readiness Standards, reported to the public by the AEIS, were put in place by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board as part of a national movement to hold school districts accountable for the education they are giving to their students.

“Texas is actually a leader in having that in place,” said Julie Combs, lead author on the gender report.

The report, which studied the data from all of Texas’ 1099 high schools, found that almost 45 percent of high school students were college ready in reading, while 48 percent were prepared in math.

Within those areas, females fared better than males in reading, with 51 percent to almost 39 percent college ready, respectively, while males were more college ready in math, almost 53 percent to females’ 44 percent. For both subjects, 30 percent of males were college prepared, 32 percent of females and only 31 percent of all students combined were college ready.

“So just slightly more than half of all the graduating girls in the state of Texas are ready for college reading,” said team member John Slate. “That’s lower than what we think it ought to be.”

Combs attributes the differences in females doing better in language arts, while males scored higher in math, as a “social conditioning” in both schools and within families.

“It has been documented in the literature that girls favor reading/language arts and boys favor math/science. There are many scholars who suggest these preferences result from how United States kids are raised, somewhat of a social phenomenon,” she said. “I think it starts in the preschool years, in what those preferences are.

“I don’t think it’s a biological or genetic difference because these preferences do not always hold true in other countries.”

Within the three main ethnic groups in Texas, white students scored better across the board. In reading, 53 percent of white students were college ready, while only 37 percent of Hispanic students and almost 34 percent of African American students met the standards.

In math, almost 59 percent of white students were “prepared,” while almost 40 percent of Hispanic students and only 29 percent of African American students fit into the category.

Even more staggering, while almost 41 percent of all white students could be deemed “college ready,” Texas’ indicator would grant only 22 percent of Hispanic students and 17 percent of African Americans the same.

“As you go from ethnic group to ethnic group, the differences become pretty astounding,” Slate said.

George Moore, the lead author of the ethnicity report, said the disparities between ethnicities is likely based on cultural and economic differences, as well as the marginal resources of public schools attended by the vast majority of minority students and the fact that those students are frequently tracked in less rigorous courses and have the least qualified teachers.

“It’s not because any of those groups have less ability; it may be different opportunities and different opportunities to learn prior to going to school. That’s why we have programs that try to help students, especially economically disadvantaged, to make up for some of those differences early in their schooling.”

Moore also points to social issues, adding that while white students may begin school at a higher starting point academically, African American students may grow at a higher rate, though even with the growth, they are still likely to be behind white students academically.

While the study may paint a dismal picture in terms of the education being provided by the state, both Combs and Moore acknowledge that there are a lot of limitations to the study.

“We’re still at the identification stage of the problem of college readiness and our studies are an attempt at describing readiness levels,” Combs said.

“There’s a lot of debate about ‘what is college readiness?’ The schools are accountable for that particular indicator, but other scholars have said that there is also an emotional component, a financial component, a social component.” she said. “But this particular study just looked at it purely from one side, and that’s the academic component.”

Another is the indicator itself, which both Combs and Moore find “very limited” and “very much heavy into what’s assessed.”

“SAT and ACT assessment has been one of the few measures that have been correlated with freshman GPA, and even though it’s not a strong relationship, some believe it’s better than anything else that there is, so that’s one reason why it has been used,” she said. “I definitely think it’s a limited measure, but sometimes you have to start with what’s available.”

Because the indicator was put in place to hold school districts accountable, it will be interesting to see how it grows and changes as more data comes in, Moore said. These data were the first released; the 2007-2008 information will be released later this month, and the team will spend the next three to six months analyzing and comparing it.

“As schools become more aware that this is one way that they’re going to be judged, I think more effort will go into making sure kids are more college ready,” Combs said. “I think on a foundational level, people expect the money that they spend on education is going to result in kids that can successfully hold jobs and contribute to the economy and the well-being of the country.”

Freshman retention in college may also come into play. The students included in the data are now college freshmen, and Combs said doctoral students within the educational leadership and counseling department have expressed interest in continuing the research with these college freshmen to see how the state’s “college readiness” standards play out at the university level.

“Personally, I think it’s more of a societal issue, a parenting issue,” Combs said. “I think you can look at generational differences and the fact that some these kids who are currently in college may have had what we call ‘helicopter parents’ because of their tendency to hover and be overly protective.

“In college, independence and responsibility are important, and these attributes go beyond the school’s job,” she said. “I do think college readiness is a much bigger issue.”

Even with the limitations of the reports, the researchers said the results show a need for school districts to start looking at their curriculum and the tricky balancing of “teaching the test” versus what will allow students to be successful at the next level.

“It’s going to be a real shift for some people, I think,” Moore said. “They have to align their curriculum to testing, and they also need to look at their curriculum in terms of rigor and if it’s really preparing students for high school.

“But they also have to go back and start looking at their middle school curriculum as well, because this is not something that just starts happening when they hit ninth grade,” he said. “From what I’ve read in the literature, for the underrepresented populations, like Hispanics and African Americans, they need to start much earlier than when they get ready to get to high school.

“We’ve got to start giving them a better background earlier.”

The complete EDLC team who put together the studies also includes Rebecca Bustamante, Anthony Onwuegbuzie and Stacey Edmonson.

Copies of the studies, “High School Students and Their Lack of Preparedness for College: A Statewide Study” and “Gender Differences in College Preparedness: A Statewide Study,” are available by contacting Combs at 936.294.3181 or or Moore at 936.294.4981 or



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SHSU Media Contacts: Jennifer Gauntt
Nov. 4, 2008
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