The topic of college readiness is likely the most discussed topic in the education community today. While the United States high school graduation rate has recently topped 80 percent , this does not mean that 80 percent of our high school graduates are college-ready. In fact, according to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), fewer than 40 percent of high-school seniors are academically prepared for the rigors of higher education.
So, what can educators do to help tip this scale and develop students that graduate from high school ready to soar through college? At Pearson’s Center for College & Career Success, we believe there is a great opportunity to improve when and how students are evaluated for college readiness, as well as how student data can be used to improve college readiness.
While it may be presumptuous to predict the college readiness of a kindergartner, it is possible to begin to track areas of strength and weakness. We suggest focusing on elementary predictors of middle school success, middle school predictors of high school success, and high school predictors of college success. In this way, ongoing evaluations give educators the ability to identify any issues a student may have and provide ample time to intervene and help the student get back on track. This is important as the closer students get to high school graduation, the more difficult it becomes to correct course. In fact, according to the ACT report, College and Career Readiness: The Importance of Early Learning, “students who were far off track in eighth grade had only a 10 percent chance in reading, 6 percent chance in science, and 3 percent chance in mathematics of reaching the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks by twelfth grade. In higher poverty schools, those numbers were 6 percent, 3 percent, and 3 percent, respectively.”
When evaluating progress and college readiness, most schools are currently focused on student’s attendance, behavior, and course performance—the ABC’s. While measuring the ABC’s is a good start, our research shows that there is more to consider when predicting college readiness. For example, we can gain tremendous insight by assessing aspects such as the number of incomplete assignments, students’ aspirations and mindset, relationships with teachers, and parental support.
At the Center for College & Career Success, we organized those types of predictors into six categories: academic achievement, behavior, motivation, social engagement, school characteristics, and family circumstances. While we found achievement to be the most predictive of future success, motivation and behavior were also significant factors and, together, contributed more than achievement alone. Interestingly, prior research has shown that social engagement is a significant factor in retention (not dropping out), but we found it did not have a significant impact on college readiness.
What good is all this information without a way to effectively analyze the data and track student progress? Technology has the ability to drastically improve schools’ ability to aggregate and analyze student data. Current school information systems may have the ability to flag a student after he or she has missed a certain number of classes or failed a certain number of assignments. However, as digital learning management systems improve and have the ability to collect a wide-range of student data—i.e. more than just the ABC’s—educators will be able to more efficiently identify students who are struggling, recommend intervention techniques based on students’ patterns of strengths and weaknesses, and track progress after intervening. In addition to evaluating individual students, measuring factors of success from pre-kindergarten to early postsecondary education also offers an opportunity to develop and evaluate school and district-wide improvement efforts. The key is having technology in place that can integrate data systems so information is analyzed and communicated in a timely manner.
Improving the nation’s state of college readiness will not occur overnight, but it is within reach. With the development of a reliable set of indicators and the right technology in place to measure and analyze student data, schools, students, and their families can map and track students along a trajectory that leads to college readiness and long-term success.
We are currently on track to reach the goal of having a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020. Wouldn’t it be great if the rise in graduation rate were accompanied by an increase in college-ready graduates as well?