Board advises on learning goals

By Jim Wozniak

FREEPORT—An Illinois Board of Higher Education task force Tuesday presented a report listing different skills students should have prior to entering a college or university.

This report will be sent to high schools, colleges and universities as part of a plan to better prepare students for college courses, it stated. However, this report is only a guideline and not a set of admission requirements, IBHE Executive Director Richard Wagner said. He said the board has no plans to make them statewide requirements.

“The task force has argued a great deal about the scope of our recommendations,” said Jack Corbally, task force chairman and former University of Illinois president. “We decided these recommendations are what all students should know. Our effort was to make sure no objective (skill) would be subject to evaluation through examination.”

NIU President John LaTourette said this report is more important for elementary and secondary education. But the university would like incoming students to have these skills, he said. LaTourette said NIU does not have the same type of report but informs students of skills needed for their major.

“This was a special report developed for higher education,” he said. “It’s supposed to be advisory. We’ll review the report. We have already in a way dealt with the issue.”

The report stated standards for admission eventually could be based more on what skills students had than the core classes students had taken. But such a plan should wait until later, it stated.

The report organizes the skills into six different areas: language arts, mathematics, biological and physical sciences, social sciences, foreign language and fine arts. The fine arts area includes art, music, theater and dance, while foreign language includes modern and classical.

Each area is broken down into sections, called outcomes, which then are divided into the specific skills. For language arts, outcomes involve skills associated with reading, listening, speaking, writing and the understanding of literature. Reading involves comprehension and interpretation, and students should critique and analyze what they hear.

Examples of language arts skills are being able to make inferences from verbal and nonverbal messages and to revise, edit and proofread written material.

The report lists 10 outcomes for mathematics. Those involve making basic calculations; using ratios, proportions and percents; using measurements; answering different algebra questions; using geometry; understanding probability and statistics; estimating results through methods such as rounding answers; using a calculator and computer; working with functions; deducting and communicating math ideas.

Science outcomes include understanding how to do experiments, knowing which concepts belong to all sciences and to only one science and knowing how scientific research helps people understand other issues.

Social science outcomes include understanding the U.S. politics and economics; understanding events affecting the United States, Illinois and the world; knowing geography and applying social science knowledge to life.

With fine arts, one should be able to analyze art work, perform some kind of art, understand connection between art and life, know artistic periods and similarities and differences between the arts.

Foreign language outcomes include being able to write, speak, read and apply the language to life. One skill is to describe, narrate and summarize a situation orally.

Board member Rhonda Ruttman raised a concern about the possibility of these recommendations becoming admission requirements. She asked where money would come from to implement programs necessary to achieve such skills and questioned the lack of students on the task force.

Corbally said, “We would agree with you that to follow these objectives, secondary skills should carefully evaluate where they emphasize skills. We would not specify how one can get these skills. We didn’t insist that students learn these skills in schools. We think it’s a good goal.”