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College-readiness may take even more than state's stats show

This week, state officials released some grim statistics: according to measures derived from a study conducted by a state committee last summer, just 23 percent of city high school graduates are well-prepared for college.

But the college-readiness recommendations the City University of New York gives for its incoming students require even more achievement than the measures used by the state this week. And the city is preparing to judge high schools on how well they prepare students for college on a range of standards that city officials claim are more robust.

For their data release this week, state officials examined students who earned at least a 75 on their English Regents exams and an 80 on their math A exams. Those cut-offs were based on an analysis of state test scores performed by Harvard University testing expert Daniel Koretz and assistant professor Jennifer Jennings last summer. That analysis predicted that students receiving those Regents exam scores would likely receive a C or higher in the college-level course.

CUNY officials also recommend that students enter their classes having received at least a 75 on the English exam and an 80 on the Math A test. But in addition, they suggest that students also have scored at least a 65 on the Math B, the next test in the math sequence.

Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky has been telling schools at least since last August of the city’s plans to use college-readiness measures as a factor in next year’s city’s high school progress reports.

Officials said today they are considering using data on how many students pass AP exams with a 3 or higher, pass the Algebra 2, Chemistry and Physics Regents exams with a 65 or higher, or pass college dual-enrollment courses like those offered through CUNY’s College Now program. City officials often argue that raising the bar will promote higher achievement as schools stretch to meet higher standards.

In an editorial in the Daily News this week, Chancellor Cathie Black argued that the state should use more complex measures like scores on the sequence of math exams to determine if a graduating high school student is ready for college.

Black’s claim comes from a city analysis of college-readiness metrics that shows that a greater percentage of students who did not score higher than an 80 on their Math A exams (which students took as ninth-graders) but who went on to pass the more rigorous Math B exam were on-track at CUNY than students who did well on just the Math A exam but never progressed to the second math exam.

The city’s analysis of how math Regents exam scores and the number of Advanced Placement classes a student takes correlate to being on-track at CUNY is below.

As several GothamSchools commenters noted this week, it is already obsolete to use the Math A and B Regents exams as a standard, as the two exams were discontinued in 2009 and 2010. Instead, students must now pass as either the Integrated Algebra, Geometry, or Algebra 2/Trigonometry exams to graduate with a Regents diploma, the higher graduation bar that all students will soon be held to.

City officials said today that they believe students should take and pass all three of those math exams in sequence to be considered ready for college.

Part of the reason that city officials are arguing that it is insufficient to use just the Math A exams as an indicator of college-readiness has to do with timing. Although students must take three math courses in high school to graduate, they could take the Math A Regents exam as a freshman and not take a rigorous math course again until college.

State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said this week that officials from CUNY and the State University of New York had also voiced concern that the current graduation requirements can allow students to go long periods of time between being tested in math and enrolling in college-level math courses. “This is something the colleges have been speaking about for quite some time,” she said.

Tisch said this week’s data release was intended to spark discussion over how the state should judge whether students are prepared for college and how those measures should be included in the new graduation regulations that state officials are preparing.

“This is just a conversation by way of setting the groundwork for what graduation requirements should be,” Tisch said.

State education officials have been meeting with SUNY and CUNY officials and holding a series of meetings to discuss how to set new college-readiness standards. Two such meetings will take place in New York City starting next week, Tisch said.

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