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State Standards will be a promising source of these college-
readiness focused tests. In the meantime, a number of states
are moving to end-of-course assessments in high schools
that can be tailored to measure student performance on the
readiness standards, especially in English 3 and algebra 2.
These readiness assessments are critical because their
results can be used to modify high school instruction and/or
curriculum to focus on the standards and to direct students
into courses that can help them sharpen key skills—so that
more high school students will be ready for college.
Common application of the standards by postsecondary
. For the readiness standards to have the greatest
impact statewide, all community colleges and regional
universities should agree on and use a uniform assessment
and qualifying scores based on the common readiness
standards. Systemic reformwill happen only if high schools
and colleges apply the same standards.
Emphasis of the readiness standards in high school courses
While the adoption of the statewide readiness standards and
development of associated assessments are fundamental steps,
building the standards deeply into high school coursework
and teaching will determine ultimately whether more students
meet the standards. Accordingly, the school curriculum
should be modified, starting in the middle grades or earlier,
to focus explicitly in each course on the development of
skills that will enable students to learn at the college level.
Recognizing that it will take some time to implement these
standards fully in all grades and courses, SREB calls for the
development of supplemental 12th grade courses to help
students who are not on track to be college-ready, based on
11th grade assessments. These courses should focus explicitly
on the reading, writing and math readiness skills that students
Teaching of the readiness standards
. The most critical
part of the readiness agenda is K–12 teachers’ effectiveness
in helping more
students develop
the skills they need.
Teachers can help
students reach these
higher levels of skill,
if they are supported
by clear, unified,
common statewide
readiness standards;
the application of
these standards in
school assessments and
systems; and,
curriculum frameworks and pre-service and in-service
preparation focused on the standards.
Teacher development, both pre-service for prospective
teachers and in-service for practicing teachers, should focus
more precisely on the clearer standards and helping students
meet them, along with course content, assignments and
grading practices.
State accountability systems also should emphasize college
. Despite all the emphasis on accountability in K–12
and postsecondary education, most states
do not hold either sector accountable for
improving students’ college readiness.
States should require high schools and local
K–12 systems to increase the percentages
of high school graduates who are college-
ready annually. In addition, to push
postsecondary education and K–12 schools
to improve students’ readiness jointly, states
should hold postsecondary education
accountable for increasing the proportion
of remedial students who transition into
college courses, and the proportion of these
students who complete college degrees
and certificates. Postsecondary education
must be held accountable for its roles in
improving college readiness and degree-completion rates—
while maintaining access.
In summary, states need to address the college-readiness
challenge with a clearer understanding that the problem is
much greater than is commonly recognized. What’s more,
strengthening students’ college readiness not only involves
better standards and assessments, but also curriculum, teacher
development and accountability.
States need to address the college-readiness challenge
with urgency—and systemically and comprehensively.
States simply cannot afford to wait until new high school
assessments can be developed. Best practices in states such
as California, Texas, Florida, Kentucky and others provide
enough guidance for states to move quickly to improve
students’ college readiness—and to use higher standards in
school curriculum and teaching. Now is not a moment too
David Spence is president of the Southern Regional Education
Current testing for
college readiness
often downplays the
most important skill
students need in
order to succeed in
college courses.
Higher readiness
standards will help
to improve college
readiness only if
they are applied
systemically, as part
of a comprehensive
state policy agenda.