In response to concerns that incoming students have received insufficent academic preparation from their high schools, the Core Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss ways of studying the problem.
Committee members said this week they want to conduct a study of student academic backgrounds, in an effort to determine just how much their preparations in high school varied.
Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence said that because there is such a difference in preparation among students, many faculty have trouble teaching Core courses, which all students must take.
"Is the Core well-matched with the state of preparation...of the people coming into the College?" Spence asked in a recent interview.
The idea for a this kind of study arose as early as last spring, when some Core subcommittees reported in their five year review of the Core that many faculty were frustrated with the varying levels of their students' preparation, said Core Director Susan W. Lewis.
"These comments led the Dean Spence to wonder if we should have a systematic look at the backgrounds students brought to Harvard," Lewis said.
Lewis said that most of the professors reporting problems taught courses in either the Historical Studies or Science areas of the Core.
"Many [professors] complain either about the lack of coherence of the student body, i.e. the diversity in preparation and levels of understanding, or about the general lack of historical knowledge, especially in European and non-Western history," reported the Historical Studies Subcommittee in their five-year review issued last spring.
Lewis said that in the planned study, the Core Committee will probably look at questionniares completed by first-year students before they arrive at school, indicating how many years of each subject they had studied in high school. But the Committee may decide at Tuesday's meeting that they need even more data, Lewis said.
The admissions committee recommends that applicants have taken four years each of English and math, and three each of laboratory science, history, and foreign language, said Marlyn M. Lewis, director of admissions.
But the admissions director said that Harvard frequently accepts students whose backgrounds do not match the recommended standards because they might show promise of future success. Many high schools simply do not offer the courses Harvard would like students to have taken, she added.
"We are trying to figure out who has the most promise, and we are looking at what they have done with the classes available to them," she said.
Marlyn Lewis suggested that by junior year--after students have taken most of their Core courses--the students with weaker academic backgrounds usually have made up for any differences between them and other students.
But Susan Lewis said yesterday that while differences in background even out quickly within a student's concentration, even juniors and seniors who take Core courses unrelated to their concentrations will be less prepared because they have never taken courses in the subject.