Lower college-entrance standards produce slam dunks for failure

By Jim Waters - Guest columnist

In honor of the upcoming hoops season, we offer some tips, courtesy of dunklikeabeast.com – like this one on how high to set your basketball net: “Generally speaking, there is no definite height for the hoop. It will depend on who will be playing or where it should be used.”

One tip says: “The Right Basketball Hoop Height – It Depends!” Another one suggests: “Adjustable Height: You can Never Go Wrong.”

While lowering a rim’s height may be an age-appropriate approach to installing a basketball goal on your driveway, lowering the standards is a wrongheaded way to determine whether students are prepared for success in college.

It does, however, allow education bureaucrats to toot their own horns – as we’ve seen happening with Kentucky’s latest “college and career ready” rates.

Terry Holliday, who recently retired as education commissioner after a six-year tenure, spent his final day touting improvements in preparing Kentucky’s public-school students for future success.

But did the state “lower the rim” in order to score big improvements?

Prior to 2012, only students who reached benchmark scores in English, math and reading established by Kentucky’s own higher-education authority for the ACT college entrance test were considered ready for credit-level college classes.

Students who failed to reach the ACT benchmarks were required to take remedial, non-credit courses in those academic areas where they had failed to make the grade.

However, the bureaucracy was getting slammed so badly about high – and costly – college-remediation rates in this column and elsewhere that those numbers are no longer available.

It’s understandable, considering that in some years during the past decade, more than 40 percent of Kentucky’s high-school graduates needed non-credit remedial course in one or more areas of English, math or reading.

So, what’s happening? Dreamers in the bureaucracy are lowering the rim by getting rid of remedial classes.

They wistfully think all will be well if these students, who are well behind, get placed in so-called “accelerated courses” – credit-bearing classes that promise to catch them up with their better-prepared peers.

It’s a fanciful expectation that Robert King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, even admitted on Oct. 6 to the state Board of Education that professors in the university system are unhappy about.

Math professors, in particular, strongly doubt this approach will add up to success for these students.

They know that lowering the rim may strengthen a youngster’s self-esteem to heave a LeBron James-like dunk, but it may also offer a false sense of how well he can really play the game.

Kentucky’s education bureaucracy further lowered the college-entrance rim in 2012 by allowing students to take easier tests if they were unable to succeed with the more-challenging and widely accepted ACT exam, which offers a much-better indication of a student’s future college success.

While taking what clearly are less-challenging tests for English, math or reading results in more students getting into credit-bearing courses, a report by the commonwealth’s Office of Education Accountability (OEA) notes that a high proportion of such students have very low grade-point averages during their first year of college.

Plus, there’s quite a gap between the OEA’s evaluation for 2014 that only 37 percent of high-school graduates meet the current ACT standards while the state asserts that 56 percent of graduates from that year were ready for college.

Of course, you can boast about dunking “like a beast” while never acknowledging a lower rim. You can feel good about yourself and offer a deceptive statement about your abilities.

There’s nothing wrong with that on the driveway. But our students have to play on the court of real life, where rims are high and every basket requires a fight.


By Jim Waters

Guest columnist

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

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