Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Why College Students aren't ready for Math

MoebiusStripper reacts to an article in The Globe & Mail (Universities Trying to Cope With Students Lacking Basics 9/22/05).

My A-minus student does not have a C-level understanding of the grade twelve course that I took a decade ago, the one that prepared me reasonably well for my university math classes. He doesn’t even have a D-level understanding of such material. To say that an A-minus means anything in terms of a student’s understanding of the math they need to succeed in university is to say that there’s any correlation whatsoever between college level math and grade twelve math as it’s taught in BC. And there isn’t.

My student’s A-minus is a in fact pretty accurate reflection of his knowledge. My student does indeed have an A-minus grasp of the material taught in grade twelve math in BC. My student has acquired A-minus-level proficiency at storing formulas in his ... graphing calculator and memorizing the solutions to homework problems so that he can recall them when he faces the test. He’s quite good at all that, really. It’s just that this proficiency would help him not one whit if he were to take a university-level math class, taught by professors who naïvely expect their A-minus students to be minimally numerate, not to mention vaguely proficient in reasoning mathematically.
How much of the problem with disparity between expectations and reality is due to inadequate K-12 education, and how much is due to the simple fact that so many more people are going to college? I guess that's the million dollar question, and I guess the answer is, "What difference does it make?"

A high school diploma is supposed to signify some level of education, which, in the real world, means, "ability to perform." If you got a high school diploma (recently), there should be an expectation that you actually know the stuff that you are supposed to. It shouldn't be about demographics. It should be about achievement. And they shouldn't let people into college without that achievement. Colleges should start taking entrance exams seriously. Even though high schoolers in the US are told how important the SAT/ACT is, the fact is that you can almost always get around it somehow. Some college, somewhere, will let you in. After all, they NEED you. They need the enrollment numbers and the dollars that go with them. So they will let you in. Then, the professors will complain that you don't know what you are supposed to, but there's really nothing they can do about it. They have to deal with you. That's life in academia.