Board Hears Concerns from College Instruct

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6By Terry Rogers

On Monday, October 19, Patty Shockley, a nursing instructor at a local college, spoke to the Milford School District Board of Education about her concerns related to public school students being prepared for college. Ms. Shockley said that she taught first and second year nursing students and that she was finding that many of them did not have the basic skills they needed to complete college-level courses.

“I have had students tell me they never opened a book in high school,” Ms. Shockley said. “They say I should just give them the ‘power points’ and that they’ll be fine. They seem to have no creative thinking skills. Many cannot change a fraction and cannot write a paper at college level. It seems to be getting worse and worse each year. I am not pointing fingers only at Milford because I am seeing it happen with public school students from almost every district in the state.”

After Ms. Shockley spoke, Marvin Schelhouse, a member of the school board, asked her what the board could do to solve the problem. He said that no one had ever expressed those concerns in that way to the board. Yvette Dennehy, who also teaches college students, said that she, too, had seen some issues with students coming to college unprepared for what they would be required to do, but that she thought the new Common Core curriculum might be changing some of that.

“My children are coming home with assignments that require them to think critically,” Ms. Dennehy said. “I know many people are down on Common Core, but I am seeing some really good things coming out of the curriculum with my own two children.”

There are no statistics comparing standardized test scores between public and private schools. According to Dr. Phyllis Kohel, private schools are not required to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

“I believe that throughout the state, an attempt has been made to make all K-12 courses more rigorous so that fewer students are required to take remedial courses upon entering the collegiate level,” Dr. Kohel said. “I also believe that we, district and state, are doing a better job of aligning academic content standards in English Language Arts, literacy and mathematics with the demands of college and careers. Are we where we need to be? Probably not, but I will say that Milford has a high completion rate of students graduating from college, so I believe that we’re doing as good a job as any other public high school in Delaware.”

Several students who graduated from Milford in the past few years say that they agree with Ms. Shockley’s assessment. Nicole Rogers, who is attending the Maryland Institute College of Art as a Fine Arts Major, said that she did not feel public school prepared her for college level classes. She said that she requested several art classes throughout her four years in Milford but was never placed in an art class. Since she wanted to go into art, her only option for a high school pathway was in technology studies.

“I think the school could have done a better job of talking with students about what they wanted to do after high school,” Ms. Rogers said. “I chose to go to a school for fine arts. It would have helped me if I could have communicated this with my counselor and then been placed in a pathway directly related to my career choice.”

Ms. Rogers said that she did learn the core subjects, such as how to multiply fractions and how to use Photoshop, but she was not provided any information on subjects that became important in college, such as three-point perspective or about famous artists such as Matisse or Cezanne. When asked if students at her college who attended private school seemed to be more prepared, however, Ms. Rogers said she didn’t believe so. However, many of the students who attend MICA attended art-based public high schools and magnet schools which provided them with more of a background in art.

“However, they have their own issues at college,” Ms. Rogers said. “Some of them can barely do math, but they can tell you which rib Van Gogh broke when he shot himself. So, no, in my case, I don’t think the private school students have any better preparation than I did coming from public school.”

Christina McTheny, who graduated in the same class as Ms. Rogers from Milford High School, echoed Ms. Rogers sentiments. Ms. McTheny is an education major at Wesley College and says that she did not feel as if she was prepared for college after high school.

“I could literally write anything that I wanted and kind of fake my way through school and make straight A’s,” Ms. McTheny said. “I have gone to get help from a teacher and left the room with the entire project completed because the teacher told me what to do. However, when I got to college, I was no longer babied and I was on my own with no help other than vague answers from teachers because they expect you to know things already. I almost failed out of college my freshman year because I was so unprepared for the massive amount of work that I had to do on my own.”

Ms. McTheny said she did not really have homework in high school and what she was assigned she could do in the 20 minutes prior to class. In college, she said she had to learn on her own how to prioritize and divide her time between the many things she was required to do. She said she now thinks that public schools are too focused on the standardized tests rather than teaching what students need to know for college.

“I think public schools could have provided us with stricter courses and curriculum,” Ms. Mctheny said. “I think they could have given us a curriculum that was based off of actual learning and not teaching us to pass tests. In college, we really don’t have tests. We have midterms and finals. If there’s a test in between any of those, it is because a teacher gives us a pop quiz because they don’t think we’re doing our work.” Ms. McTheny said she felt more prepared for her college level English classes than for her math classes, but that may be because she was more engaged with English classes in high school. She said that she did not have any information regarding whether private school students were better prepared for college as she did not know any students who had attended private school.

Kerry Stahl, who teaches at Milford High School and is the president of the Milford Education Association, said that she agrees with Ms. Dennehy’s assessment that Common Core has raised the critical thinking ability of students in public school.

“Personally, I teach many students who are amazing at critically analyzing and understanding complex readings,” Ms. Stahl said. “However, what critical thinking looks like in high school English may not easily compute into what critical thinking looks like in a college nursing program. I would encourage college professors to come into the classrooms and talk to the teachers so that we can create a stronger bridge that allows students to have an easier time adapting to college expections.”