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What Is College Readiness?

1) Awareness
New education standards and methods being adopted across the country reflect a unified goal to improve college and career readiness among high school graduates. Yet according to the National Curriculum Survey taken in 2009 by ACT, high school instructors are unaware of the need for improvement. According to the survey, a shocking 91% of high school teachers believe that high school students graduate prepared for college work; only 26% of college instructors report this to be true.

Much greater awareness seems to exist among middle and high school counselors. Of 5,300 counselors surveyed this past spring for the College Board’s Advocacy & Policy Center, eight out of 10 say college and career readiness should be their school’s top priority; only 30% see this as their school’s mission.

ACT’s recent annual report claims that the majority of U.S. college-bound students are not prepared to succeed academically based on ACT test scores, which are often used to predict students’ success in college.Additionally, the report revealed that one-third of college students take at least one remedial course to catch up; more than half of those students will eventually drop out. The need to better prepare K-12 students before their first year of college is clear.

2) Conflicting Definitions
The issue of college readiness is further complicated by differing views on what exactly it means. All but nine U.S. states and territories have adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), operating under a definition of college readiness focused on English language arts and Mathematics.As with any movement in the education arena, there has been significant debate over the value and validity of the CCSSI.

While many educators, administrators, policymakers, and education scholars have avidly supported the movement, others have vehemently protested against the idea of common standards and offer definitions of college- and career-readiness with a more holistic approach. For example, The Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC) offers “Four Keys to College and Career Readiness.” These include: content knowledge; cognitive strategies; learning skills and techniques; and transition knowledge and skills. These four additional dimensions incorporate auxiliary skills such as study habits and financial literacy into their definitions of college- and career-readiness.

3) Introduction to the Common Core State Standards Initiative
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is the product of collaboration between the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Governors Association (NGA), and teachers, school administrators, and education scholars across the country. The standards provide a set of guidelines for preparing students for college and the workplace by outlining the essential skills and knowledge necessary for postsecondary success. Specifically, the standards aim to prepare students to be “able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs.” Each standard found within the Common Core has satisfied a series of conditions to ensure relevance and effectiveness. As outlined on its website, CCSSI ensures that the standards:

  • Are aligned with college and work expectations
  • Are clear, understandable and consistent
  • Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills
  • Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards
  • Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society
  • Are evidence-based

These standards address specific fundamental skills for each grade level while maintaining a focus on the ultimate outcome: college and career readiness. Despite their imperfections, many scholars have stated that the CCSSI standards are far superior to those now in place in many states, districts, and classrooms.