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College fitness may provide reality check for parents, students

Rose Rennekemp
Special to The Appeal

How well-prepared is your teen for college and the working world? Most parents believe their schools do a good job of preparing students for college and careers. But things may not be as good as we think they are.

In the report “Reality Check 2006: Are Parents and Students Ready for More Math and Science?” the nonprofit group Public Agenda found that 69 percent of parents believe that after high school graduation, their children will have the math and science skills they’ll need to succeed in college; 61 percent believe their children will have the skills to succeed in the workplace.

Scores from the ACT college entrance exam show that this belief could be off base. ACT tests close to half of all of U.S. high school graduates each year – nearly 1.2 million students in the high school class of 2005. The vast majority of those students planned to enter a four-year college last fall.

However, only 41 percent were prepared to earn a C or higher in college algebra and only 26 percent were prepared to earn a C or higher in college biology.

As parents, we don’t always have the opportunity to evaluate the teaching in our schools. We’re not often inside the classroom and few of us have experience with many different schools. Your teens may appear to be learning, but are they learning the right skills? This can be hard to know for certain, but there are a few things you can look for to see how your student’s school stacks up.

How do the test scores from your school compare to similar schools? Most school districts make scores from statewide testing or other testing available to parents or online. Check out how well your school is doing and see how it compares to other schools of similar size and makeup.

Are challenging classes readily available to all students at the school? Are many students taking advantage of advanced and honors classes? Students need to have the opportunity to challenge themselves. Taking the most challenging classes they can handle is one of the best ways for students to gain the academic skills they’ll need in college.

Make sure you’re involved in helping your student choose which classes to take, starting in middle school. Make sure that they take challenging math and science classes that will prepare them for high-level courses they’ll need to take in college. Monitor his or her progress closely.

Attend parent-teacher conferences to keep track of your student’s progress. Many teachers and schools now have an online site to check on students’ progress reports and assignments. The nonprofit group The Education Trust offers many resources to help parents stay informed of and involved in their children’s education. (You can find that information at http://www.edtrust.org .)

I see some of myself in the comments parents made in the “Reality Check” study. Many parents were more concerned about social and behavioral problems of other students in their high schools than with the strength of the curriculum. Of course, we want our students to be safe. But when your children are ready for college or the workplace, the academic skills they take from high school can mean the difference between success, or a long struggle to get up to speed.

• Rose Rennekemp is vice president of communications for the American College Test. E-mail her at askrose@act.org