Who is to blame for the 7th grade reading level epidemic among college freshmen?

How would you feel if, after reaching the summit of a high mountain, you were told that the mountain was nothing more than a low rolling hill fit for children’s play? This is probably the best way to show my surprise when I learned that college freshmen can read at a 7th-grade level. I was ecstatic to start college and saw it as a big step forward in my life. Does this suggest that my efforts are in vain and that my classmates and I did not study hard enough in school? I realized that not all students might be very brilliant and they have different levels of knowledge but this information about 7th grade skills struck me like a lightning. I understood that I had to research the topic and find out what were the reasons and how the situation could be fixed. After conducting the research I figured out that the main fault with such drastic decline in quality of students’ knowledge lay in the curriculum of Common Core currently taught at schools and requirements set in this curriculum. So the step that could fix the situation would be reviewing this curriculum and making it more suitable for giving students necessary knowledge and skills.

Steps I Have Undertaken

I began with conducting search via Google and stumbled upon a variety of articles that explored the issue. They were based on the interviews and reports of Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the renowned educator and professor, who had worked on creating the strongest sets of academic standards for K-12 schools in Massachusetts and participated in other important educational tasks (Hope, n.p). Since most articles referred to the same ideas and words from the Renaissance Learning’s report of 2015, I selected the one that provided complete overview of Dr. Stotsky’s opinion and proceeded to look for other credible sources (Stotsky, n/p). Then I found the publication dealing with larger issues of people interacting with digital world and social networks, and the data provided there were even more surprising: not only college freshmen but adults in the USA have reading level of 7th grade (Meiselwitz, 69). This publication was compiled in 2013 and presented data of earlier periods. This publication precedes the claims of the 2015 report and indicated that the problem may be even broader than expected (Meiselwitz, 69-71). However, I decided not to include question about adults into my research and continued to collect the data on students’ low reading skills and on what might cause them. While searching for more information I found few more articles that tackled the issue from a different angle and made all pieces of data that I had already collected click in place. What I have found also led me to think of possible solutions to the issue.

The Results of My Search

The first thing that I have found is that researchers and educators including Dr. Stotsky paid attention to the issue and explored what students were taught at schools. It turned out that students of high school were assigned readings in volume and quality that responded to lower grades level. For example, the book In the Country of Men was offered to high school students while the actual level of book is 5.8 (which means grade 5, month 8) (Hope, n/p). In 2014 Highland Park ISD of Dallas assigned high schools students with books that were of 5.7 or even 4.0 levels (grades 5 and 4 respectively) (Hope, n/p). These schools are public schools, so they are expected to provide better education than ordinary schools across the country. However, these lowered educational standards are present everywhere, as experts claim. It happens around the country because these books are included into Common Core standard as suitable for high school education, and in its turn, the Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) is not a set of proper standards at all, as Dr. Stotsky says (Stotsky, n/p). Rather, it is a number of isolated skills that are preparing students for college and career, but it is unclear what career may await these unlucky students.

This remark about college and career is very important because it partially explains why the Common Core is so disappointing. In the attempt to educate students who are prepared to study in colleges and look for some careers, authorities who developed the standard decided that students should read less fiction and more information texts. It was expected that it would prepare students for real life and equip them with skills necessary for college or work (Pullmann, n/p). However, there is no research that suggests that ‘information’ texts prepare students for college studies (Pullmann, n/p). Instead, large amount of information texts like ‘federal administrative orders’ leaves little space for literary fiction like Vanity Fair or Dickens that high school students used to read (Stotsky, n/p). The researches do show that best college students are those who have read plenty of complex literary works rich in vocabulary and ideas. The same pertains to mathematics, as Algebra I is eliminated in 8th grade, thus limiting students’ opportunity to Partial Algebra II only. No good STEM education or technical career can be based on these limited pieces of knowledge, Pullmann argues (Pullmann, n/p).

One more disturbing finding is that SAT has been remodeled to fit the curriculum of the Common Core and today it shows good results of students precisely in the Common Core framework (American High School Students Are Reading Books …, n/p). So it is impossible to compare independent assessment results with school tests because there are no such results available today. One more side of this issue is that colleges are pushed to accept students with low skills, and in order to retain students colleges also lower sights. So instead of remedying the gap in skills or accepting only best students colleges simply offer simplified education (Stotsky, n/p). This is definitely not the colleges parents want their children to go to and not the skills that should be gained there.

The remedy seems quite obvious: the Common Core standards should be remodeled to provide better and stronger education. Literary studies cannot be limited to information texts only, they should include complex fiction works. Besides, the complexity should increase in each next grade, so that reading and analyzing skills of students developed constantly. Mathematics studies should also be remodeled. Colleges should also keep the standard high and provide students with education worthy of money spent on it.

Reflections on My Search

It took me more time to collect information and think it over than I expected. Yet it was very useful to evaluate, compare and put together different facts and pieces of information to create a coherent text without repeating ideas or stating things that are not supported by research. It was also quite hard to organize the paper properly, but now I can see the pattern and know how to tackle tasks like this. And above all – I learned a lot about the problem of college students’ reading skills and was able to come up with solutions, at least in brief and generalized form.

Works Cited

“American High School Students Are Reading Books At 5th-Grade-Appropriate Levels: Report.” The Huffington Post. March 23, 2012.

Hope, Merrill. “Expert: Most US College Freshmen Read at 7th Grade Level.” Breitbart. 3 Jan 2015.

Meiselwitz, Gabriele. “Readability Assessment of Policies and Procedures of Social Networking Sites.” pp. 67-75. In: Online Communities and Social Computing. A. Ant Ozok and Panayiotis Zaphiris (eds.) 5th international conference, OCSC 2013 held as part of HCI International 2013, Las Vegas, NV, USA, July 21-26, 2013. Proceedings. Springer.

Pullmann, Joy. “How Common Core Damages Students’ College Readiness.” The James Martin Center for Academic Renewal. March 10, 2017.

Stotsky, Sandra. “Why No Information On What A College-Readiness Reading Level Is?” Education News, January 9, 2015.

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