Opinion: What does being “college and career ready” mean?

Ensuring that all students who graduate high school are "college and career ready" by 2020 is one of President Obama’s key education reform goals. But what does that mean?

Is being ready for college right after high school the same thing as being ready to enter workforce training programs right out of high school?

As it turns out, the answer is "yes," at least regarding knowledge and skills in English and math.

That’s according to the one organization that has been collecting and reporting data on students’ academic readiness for college for more than 50 years.

ACT, the non-profit organization best known for its college admissions ACT test, built its unique database by following millions of students into all types of postsecondary education to evaluate their success in college.

There is no consensus in the education world on a definition of “college and career ready,” but yesterday, Cynthia Schmeiser, ACT’s Education Division president and its chief operating officer, explained ACT’s view to lawmakers on Capitol Hill at a hearing about the reauthorization of the law commonly known as No Child Left Behind.

“ACT defines college readiness as acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing, first-year courses at a postsecondary institution, such as a two- or four-year college, trade school, or technical school,” she said. “Simply stated, readiness for college means not needing to take remedial courses in postsecondary education or training programs.”

Most high school graduates, however, aren’t ready for college or career, she said. Look at these statistics:

Of the 1.5 million high school graduates who took the ACT during the academic year 2008–2009, 33 percent were not ready for college-level English, 47 percent were not ready for college social science, 58 percent were not ready for college algebra, and 72 percent were not ready for college biology.

Overall, only 23 percent were ready to enter college-level courses without remediation in any of the four subject areas.

As to whether a student who wants to enter college after high school or enter a workforce training program needs the same K-12 education, she said the answer is “yes.”

Here’s more of her testimony:

“Unfortunately, there are far too many in this country who believe that the level of achievement needed for high school graduates who want to enter workforce training programs is far less than that needed for those students who plan to enter some form of postsecondary education. ACT research shows that career readiness requires the same level of foundational knowledge and skills in mathematics and reading that college readiness does.

“According to our research, the majority of the jobs that require at least a high school diploma, pay a living wage for a family of four, are projected to increase in number in the 21st century, and provide opportunities for career advancement require a level of knowledge and skills comparable to those expected of the first-year college student.

“So the level of knowledge and skills students need when they graduate from high school is the same whether they plan to enter postsecondary education or a workforce training program for jobs that offer salaries above the poverty line.

“….Compared to high school graduates who are not college and career ready, those who are ready to enter credit-bearing college courses are more likely to enroll in college, stay in college, earn good grades, and persist to a college degree. And in our latest research study soon to be released, we found that gaps in college success among racial/ethnic groups and by family income narrow significantly among students who are ready for college and career.”


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