State raises bar for college students

January 25, 2008 5:18:30 AM PST
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has signed off on new college-readiness standards in an effort to reduce the number of students who arrive on campus needing remedial work. Teams of high school teachers, university professors and education experts have been working on the plan since the Texas Legislature ordered new standards in 2006.

The 104-page packet approved by the coordinating board on Thursday defines the necessary skills to do college-level work in English, math, science and the social sciences.

Education officials hope the plan will help more students get bachelor's degrees, and do so more efficiently. Currently, more than half the entering freshmen at Texas colleges and universities need remedial classes.

The new standards are not high school graduation requirements. "We wanted to spell out clearly what colleges expect," said Evelyn Hiatt, senior director of college-readiness initiatives for the coordinating board. "I think we have a tremendous job to do in terms of building awareness. We also have to allay people's fears that the kids can't do it."

The plan now goes to the Texas Education Agency and the state Board of Education, which will be in charge of making changes to the state's curriculum to meet the new standards. Members of the coordinating board said they would like to see the standards in place by 2012.

"This is a very huge first step," said Raymund Paredes, Texas' higher education commissioner. "But there is a lot of work ahead of us."

The standards call for students to understand subjects such as quadratic equations, the laws of thermodynamics and the identification of words based on their Greek or Latin roots.

In public comments submitted on the plan, some educators and parents questioned whether the standards are reasonable. Others wondered whether school laboratories have the equipment to teach the science standards.

Teachers and professors who helped write the standards said the questions are supposed to be challenging.

"They're up there," said Mercedes Guzman of the El Paso school district, who helped lead a team that developed the science standards. "I think a lot of teachers are going to be surprised by this."

Alan Richard, spokesman for the Southern Regional Education Board, said Texas is one of the first states to adopt college readiness standards. The regional board is a nonpartisan think tank that represents 16 states, including Texas.

"The 21st-century economy now demands that just about everyone has some level of education beyond high school whether in a four- or two-year college or specialized career training," Richard said. "A high school diploma should mean that a student is prepared for the next step in education. But right now, it doesn't. We think it makes sense for states to build that link between high school and post-secondary education."

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