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Article posted: 1/10/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Expanding our view of college prep

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By The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Suburban parents and their children with college in their sights are getting a new, and important, message about how to prepare.

As Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy wrote this week, the ACT, once considered the primary predictor of success in college, increasingly is being joined by other factors. Now, educators are finding that activities and measurements that emphasize critical thinking and analytical abilities are also important in determining whether students are prepared for college and how well they will do.

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"There is a very low relationship between performance on those tests and success in college classes ...," Steve Cordogan, director of research and evaluation for Northwest Suburban High School District 214, told Krishnamurthy. "It is really student performance in the classroom that predicts future student performance in college."

This kind of thinking has implications for students in the upper reaches of testing and academic performance, but it may resonate even more for students in the middle and lower ranges -- especially for those who may be interested in college but wondering whether they can be successful.

That decision, educators say, needs to take into consideration more than simply the results of the ACT. That benchmark has always been somewhat arbitrary. New standards issued this year identify the score at which students should be presumed ready for college in reading as 22 -- up a point from before. The academics say scores of 23 suggest readiness in science, 22 for math and 18 for English. But really, does anyone believe that an 18 in English guarantees a student is ready or that a student with a 17 couldn't make it?

Of course not, but the new emphasis formalizes new lines of thinking that high school students -- or even junior high students -- should be considering as they strive to determine whether college is right for them and, if so, what courses of study to pursue.

Elgin Area Unit District 46 has been applying this approach for years, helping to increase the college preparedness of minority students and developing a definition of preparedness that, in addition to testing, measures abilities to apply math and reading activities to career and life problems and examines work-related behaviors.

In that vein, Tim Wierenga, assistant superintendent for assessment and analytics for Naperville Unit District 203, acknowledges that, "In order to improve, you have to be focused on the individual rather than the collective."

The take-away for suburban parents and students is a renewed awareness that success in higher education, as in career and adult life, springs not from a single performance measurement but from both an interest in learning fundamental skills and an ability to apply them in practical situations. In such an environment, the ACT surely plays an important, possibly even central role. But classroom performance and participation in a variety of vocational, athletic, artistic and social activities can also be just as important.

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