Monday, February 16, 2015

College Freshman Read at 7th Grade Level

While this is hardly news, I came across an article the other day which argued that the average college freshman reads at a seventh grade level (source). Having taught at the university level now for some (mumble mumble mumble) years I've personally seen the decline in reading ability of our college students. From the article:
"We are spending billions of dollars trying to send students to college and maintain them there when, on average, they read at about the grade 6 or 7 level, according to Renaissance Learning’s latest report on what American students in grades 9-12 read, whether assigned or chosen," education expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky [said].... "The average reading level for five of the top seven books assigned as summer reading by 341 colleges using Renaissance Learning’s readability formula was rated 7.56 [meaning halfway through seventh grade]."
I teach political science and history classes and have used the same (or similar) primary source texts for many years. Since the past five or even ten years, I now receive complaints from students about how difficult the readings are. Today's students simply cannot process the readings anymore. Those who do process them, filter them through some progressive-laden filter and miss the plain meaning.

Here is an example of student complaints from just one of the assignments - a reading of the Mayflower Compact (a basic document in US history):
I had a hard time writing on these topics, the Compact in particular. 
I did not like this assignment. The wording on these documents was hard to understand.
A strong indicator over recent years of student inability to read is a decline in overall grades. As I mentioned, I've used the same readings and the same grading rubric for many years, but the overall average grades have declined from an average of around 90% to an average of around 78%.

This drop in reading ability and grades should concern us all. It's too early in the game to blame Common Core on declining student reading, but we can lay the decline squarely at the feet of progressive education doctrine which is based on the false philosophies of standardized assessments and teacher (not student) accountability.

It's time we return to the fundamentals of teaching, not where student progress is measured by incessant and stressful standardized testing, but where student progress is measured by such intangibles as, say, the ability to read.