College, High School Teachers Disagree On Importance of Grammar, Usage Skills
IOWA CITY, Iowa
Although college faculty and high school teachers largely agree on the writing skills that are most important for students to possess, they disagree in one key area — grammar and usage skills. While college instructors believe these are the most important skills for entering college students to have, such skills are considered to be least important by high school teachers, according to recent results from ACT’s National Curriculum Survey.
This apparent disconnect may be one reason why a significant number of first-year college students need remedial help with their writing skills. Recent studies have suggested that as many as half of today’s college freshmen must take at least one remedial course in college, and more than four in 10 of these students take a remedial writing course.
“Overall, we’re seeing a good degree of consistency between what high school English teachers and college freshman composition instructors think students should know,” says Dr. Cynthia Schmeiser, ACT’s vice president for development. “Still, it seems that many high school graduates don’t have all the skills they need to succeed in college-level coursework, so any discrepancy between college expectations and high school instruction warrants attention.”
ACT is adding an optional writing test to its college entrance and placement exam starting in the 2004-2005 school year. The results of the curriculum survey will be used to guide development of the new writing test.
The survey results indicate that, among six general writing skills categories, grammar and usage skills rank highest in terms of importance at the college level. At the high school level, in contrast, these skills rank lowest of the six and receive the least instructional attention.
Student performance on the ACT Assessment also supports this finding. Forty-six percent of the graduating seniors in 2002 who took the ACT Assessment scored at or below a score of 19 on the ACT English Test. These scores suggest that these students are marginally prepared or not ready for college-level coursework and are likely struggling with such fundamental English skills as: using punctuation to clarify meaning; solving basic grammatical problems such as subject-verb agreement; and determining the clearest and most logical way to link clauses.
ACT conducts its National Curriculum Survey of high school teachers and college faculty every three years. For more information visit the ACT Web site at
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