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on algebra 2 and trigonometry. Students are admitted
to postsecondary education based on one conception of
appropriate math, but their placement is based on a different
The need for students to take algebra 2 and trigonometry
in their senior year is not communicated clearly by higher
education, because students are focusing upon access and
admission, and not on what they need to know to complete
their postsecondary programs.
The Stanford Bridge Project six-state assessment analysis
highlights the differences in K–16 writing standards. SAT
I and ACT assess writing through multiple choice formats,
while many states use writing samples. It is ironic that many
of the nation’s universities do not include actual writing
in their admission standards. Consequently, SAT/ACT
preparation courses emphasize finding errors quickly in
sentence and paragraph structure.
The senior year of high school should include intensive
writing preparation for postsecondary success, but there are
few signals or incentives to do this.
In short, K–16 assessments are all over the map, and
send confusing signals to students and parents. Students are
confused as to why SAT I is so different from the content and
skills on their state K–12 assessments.
Policy improvements that encompass the senior year
Several policy directions would improve senior-year
preparation for postsecondary education:
• Permit students to submit subject-matter-based state
external exams as a significant factor for admissions and
freshman placement. Study the university success of these
The crucial difference between external exams and the
SAT/ACT is that a curriculum-based exam is organized
by discipline and keyed to the content of specific course
sequences. This focuses
responsibility for preparing
the student for particular
exams on one teacher or
a small group of teachers.
These exams define
achievement relative to
an external standard, not
relative to other students in
the classroom or school.
• Substitute SAT II (or
College Board Pacesetters,
when it is developed) for
SAT I in order to link
admissions and placement
standards closer to external
discipline-based standards outlined above. Higher costs of
SAT II should be borne by the public and not by the student.
Since some SAT II exams have not been changed since they
were originated, many of them need to be strengthened and
• Align freshman placement exams with other state
standards, and publicize placement exam content, standards
and consequences to students in high school. The quality of
these exams must be high, or else alignment will lead to lower
and inappropriate standards.
• Report and publicize freshman placement results for
each high school. Allow students to take placement exams
in 11th or 12th grade, and substitute K–12 assessments
for university-devised placement exams. Since some states
have different placement exams for each university or tier of
university, there needs to be a study of content differences and
whether a common exam is feasible.
• Require a writing sample for all admissions decisions.
Neither the SAT I nor ACT assess writing samples, but some
statewide K–12 assessments have a writing sample that could
be incorporated into the regular admissions/placement
• Standardize high school procedures for computing
high school class rank (HCR) and grade point average.
Universities should specify academic courses that count in
computing HCR, and accord appropriate weight for honors
and AP courses. Senior-year academic courses should be an
important component of HCR calculations.
• Explore the feasibility of using student portfolios for
admissions in lieu of current policies. For example, Oregon
PASS provides a writing score to colleges and universities that
is based on a portfolio of high school written work.
• Align merit financial aid policies with the changes
recommended above. For example, base merit aid on external
subject-matter exams like the New York Regents and North
Carolina end-of-course tests.
• Review on a periodic basis state, local K–16 and
university content and performance standards. Study the
signals and incentives that students receive concerning
admissions standards. Universities know what signals they are
trying to send, but not what signals students receive.
Specific initiatives to improve the academic quality and
impact of the senior year
The following list is targeted at the senior year, but will be
more effective if accompanied by the changes recommended
in the prior section.
• For 70 percent of students now participating in
postsecondary education, the senior year should be re-
conceptualized to stress preparation for postsecondary
success, credit level placement, and a start upon continuous
general or liberal arts education. Access to higher education is
only the starting point of senior year, not the sole goal.
• Expand substantially successful dual-enrollment K–12
postsecondary programs that include all levels of students, not
just highest achieving students.
• Undergraduate general education requirements need to
be sequenced so appropriate senior-year courses are linked.
Senior-year courses can be a gateway to general education
requirements in the first year of college or university.
• Set explicit standards for senior-year performance in
all courses, and withdraw admission if they are not met.
Require a minimum number of academic credits for the last
semester of the senior year. Stress postsecondary placement
exam standards in this last semester for students who plan to
proceed to postsecondary education.
• Make the implications of freshman placement exams
Some K–12 state
assessments are
at such a basic
level that they
are inappropriate
for use in