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Despite completing secondary education, many students in the United States enter postsecondary institutions with low reading, writing, and/or mathematics skills, which greatly impede their academic progress. In fall 2016, 42 percent of entering students at two-year public colleges and 20 percent of entering students at four-year public colleges enrolled in at least one developmental education course aimed at preparing students for the academic demands of postsecondary coursework. The current study focuses on reading and writing ability, which prior resource indicates is problematic for a large proportion of postsecondary students. For example, in a sample of 57 community colleges in seven states, 33 percent of entering students were referred to developmental reading courses. Information on the need for developmental English" courses is limited, but studies suggest that up to 35 percent of entering community college students are referred to such courses. Thus, it is probable that at least one-third of entering community college students require help with reading and/or writing skills if they are going to perform well in college-level courses.

Although academic skills are not the only measure of college readiness, they are a central indicator. Signs of college readiness include passing scores on reading, writing, and mathematics placement tests administered on entry to college, and passing grades in entry-level, college-credit English composition courses. More generally, a well-prepared secondary education graduate has been characterized as one who “can qualify for and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses leading to a baccalaureate or certificate, or career pathway-oriented training programs without the need for remedial or developmental coursework”.

From the perspective of literacy, college readiness includes the ability to read analytically and critically, synthesize written information, and produce ideas in writing that are well supported, well organized, and expressed using appropriate grammar and academic style. Well-prepared students are able to decipher the majority of words in the text they are expected to read, adapt their reading and writing skills to suit different purposes and audiences, and assess and reflect on their own skills. However, although several general indicators of academic readiness for college exist, there is a shortage of research on how close developmental education students are to being able to perfonn reading and writing tasks typically required in college-credit courses.