Study says students lack skills for college

GW students avoided a nationwide trend of entering college with substandard math and writing skills, University officials said.

Nearly 75 percent of college professors feel students have deficient skills in mathematics and English, according to Reality Check, an annual study released in January. Public Agenda, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in New York, surveyed 251 two- and four-year college professors who have taught freshmen or sophomores in the last two years to study the national impact of various education initiatives.

Some three out of four of the country’s college professors say that today’s high school graduates have just fair or poor skills in grammar and spelling and the ability to write clearly, according to the study. Clear majorities give similarly lackluster ratings for basic math skills.

Increased standards for incoming freshmen allowed GW to avoid the nationwide trend, administrators and professors said.

What we’re seeing at GW is an increase, at least in the preparedness, of the students coming here, said Kathryn Napper, director of Admissions. The faculty have told us the students are getting more and more prepared. This has been shown from the increase of students coming from the top of (their) high school class.

Napper said about 40 percent of incoming freshmen are entering the University with Advanced Placement credits – a majority in English and math.

According to the survey, 82 percent of professors rated recent high school graduates as poor or fair in the area of clear writing. Seventy-nine percent of professors said graduating students were unable to use correct grammar and spelling and 61 percent said students were inadequately prepared with basic math skills.

Daniel Moshenberg, an associate English professor and director of the expository writing program, said he disagrees with the relevance of Reality Check to GW’s academics.

I would say that within the writing program, we do not see a decline in the writing skills and ambitions of incoming students, he said.

Increased admissions standards help the University remain an exception to the national trend, Moshenberg said.

Anecdotally, I would say GW has become more selective, and students in their attitudes and ambitions have come to reflect that, he said.

The University tracks students’ perceptions of their own academic standards through surveys at Colonial Inauguration, said Cheryl Beil, director of Academic Planning and Assessment.

According to University statistics, 64 percent of incoming freshmen rated themselves above average or in the highest 10 percent in writing ability.

Only seven percent of students indicated they would need help or remediation in writing, according to the CI survey.

Beil said feedback from professors is a better indication of students’ preparation than the CI survey.

It may just be that (GW students) just don’t know what they don’t know, Beil said. I hear a lot of anecdotal evidence from faculty and staff that students don’t know how to write.

Reality Check also shows a discrepancy between parent perception of students’ academic ability with that of professors. According to the report, 66 percent of parents say their child will have the skills to succeed on the job, while just 46 percent of professors say incoming students are adequately prepared.

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