Minding the (Expectations) Gap

Tuesday, October 12, 2010Printer-friendly version

ACT's "Mind the Gaps: How College Readiness Narrows Achievement Gaps in College Success" is the latest report to bring attention to the critical relationship between college readiness and college success. The high-level report aims to shed light on the importance of better college preparation in high schools and the lasting impact it bears on a student’s success in college.

ACT, like Achieve, sees college readiness as a means to postsecondary success. While the report highlights a range of academic factors that are predictive of college success - such as first-year enrollment, sophomore retention, first-year GPA, and remediation - the report shows that the type of high school courses students enroll in plays a particularly significant role in college success. While it may seem common sense, as the rigor of mathematics, English and science courses increase, the retention rates of first-year college students increase and remediation rates decrease. Reports like this are essential in "telling the story" of college readiness and to further drive the connections between the college readiness and college success agenda.

Importantly, the report concedes that a higher-level name stamped on a course is not enough to conclude the depth and intensity of the instruction, but rather that the rigor of the course is the most important factor in determining that integral first-year college completion. Like Achieve, ACT asserts that alignment of K-12 and postsecondary coursework—and important policy work surrounding the college- and career-ready agenda—will inevitably be the most complete way of indicating whether or not students can and will achieve postsecondary success.

The good news is that nearly 40 states are working now to implement Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to help ensure all students have access to college- and career-ready content, and are being prepared for their next steps. The CCSS will serve as the basis for next-generation assessments, created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortia, which will measure the knowledge and skills that are fundamental to college success.

Furthermore, implementation of CCSS presents states with the opportunity to reconsider what courses they require all students to complete before graduating and ensure those courses are aligned with postsecondary expectations for a smooth transition. Twenty-one states and Washington, DC have already raised their graduation requirements to the college- and career-ready level and the CCSS will likely push more states to adopt similarly rigorous requirements. This report and others that contain optimistic data about the potential for students to succeed with the proper preparation and immersion in environments that support a college-going culture should only serve to validate the agendas of national, state and local governments, as well as third party organizations, that are involved in raising the standards of academic excellence for students.

You can read ACT’s full “Mind the Gap” Report here.