Student Illiteracy at the College Level

The state of Illinois just lowered the ISAT passing requirements. As a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, state Boards of Education are under a lot of pressure to produce results because meeting these test requirements is directly related to large sources of revenue that the school districts desperately need. The number of students required to pass in Illinois has been raised to 77.5%. In this way, the acceptable level of performance is reduced in order to compensate for the requirements established by No Child Left Behind.

The threshold has been lowered by 9 percentage points since 2006. One way to look at this is that an “F+” is now bumped up to a “D”. The passing percentage was 64% in 2006 and is now 55%. The passing requirements in Illinois have been reduced the most drastically on reading tests for 3rd through 8th graders – the period where students develop their reading comprehension. These problems are then kicked up to the high schools and then passed on to colleges. Even though the quality of everything will eventually suffer as everyone’s ability to read and write properly eventually disappears; we can take comfort in the fact that we are not leaving any children behind.

The system is not only broken, but is also headed in the wrong direction. As an advocate of education, I was deeply disturbed when working on several group projects at the graduate level recently. The idea of one of the projects was to combine previous assignments that were used earlier in the course and merge them to produce one comprehensive written presentation. Because of this format, each member of the group was basically looking at the previous homework assignments of the other students in the group. I remained as straight-faced as possible while I was mentally pinching myself trying to make sure that I was not dreaming.

First of all, with this new invention called a word processor; there are no excuses for misspelled words EVER. I tried to figure out if it was just pure laziness or was it something else that prevented these students from just running spell-check. In addition, the spacing on the page was random and students would alternate between using one and then two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence. And forget about word selection and grammar. Microsoft Word is not always 100% correct with the correction suggestions that it gives, but it is really very close almost all of the time.

Teachers don’t want to rock the boat now that their jobs are no longer a guaranteed certainty. It used to be that educators were in great demand (and good ones always will be), but now that their jobs are just as volatile as everyone else’s they are having their authority taken away and students are taking over in the classroom. Students used to shut up and listen (or at least they were supposed to), now everybody has a voice and everybody’s opinion matters. A teacher that holds students to an acceptable standard can be seen as asking too much of the student and if enough students complain and enough parents complain, the just get the teacher out of there. It used to be difficult to get rid of a tenured teacher and that is not the case anymore. School districts secretly love this because they can bring in a new-hire for a fraction of the salary. This newbie then does not have anything to reference in terms of expected performance of their students and will more easily accept incompetence as the norm.