New Report Shows Far Too Few U.S. High School Graduates Academically Prepared

Monday, March 14, 2016Printer-friendly version

For more than a decade, Achieve has issued an annual 50-state report on each state's adoption of college- and career-ready (CCR) policies as reflected in state standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems. Today, Achieve released a new type of examination of states' progress in achieving college and career readiness for all students in the form of 51 individual state profiles and a cross-state report that look at actual student performance against CCR measures.

"Achieve has long advocated the adoption of college- and career-ready policies at the state level," said Michael Cohen, President of Achieve. "As a decade's worth of our Closing the Expectations Gap reports have shown, many states have taken important steps to get higher standards and better assessments on the books. We thought it was time to start taking a close look at the data states are reporting about student outcomes to better understand the impact of these CCR policies."

This report represents the first time that these data, from publicly available sources, have been compiled to paint a picture of academic readiness in every state. For the most part, it shows that too few high school graduates are prepared to succeed in two- and four-year postsecondary institutions or the military.

The report also shows significant limitations in the availability of data and inconsistencies in how they are reported across states. For example, just 15 states report data on how many students take and complete a high school course of study that would prepare them, and only 11 disaggregate those data by subgroups. Twenty-two states report data on students earning college credit in high school through AP courses; just seven of those states break those data down by subgroups. Only seven states report how many students in 8th or 9th grade are on track to graduate based on timely credit accumulation.

"The inconsistency and lack of availability of the data makes it challenging for policymakers, educators, families, and advocates to get a clear answer to the simple question of whether high school graduates are prepared for postsecondary success," Cohen said. "We need more transparency from states if we are to move the needle on readiness in a significant way."

In the effort to gather and understand the available data, Achieve looked at several indicators of college and career readiness in each state, including students' performance on CCR assessments, completion of a rigorous course of study, and earning college credit while in high school. Achieve also examined postsecondary indicators: high school graduates' enrollment, persistence, and remediation rates at two- and four-year colleges. These postsecondary indicators are included in the state profiles released today and will be the subject of a separate cross-state comparison report to be released later this month.

In addition to the reporting states are already doing on graduation rate, Achieve recommends states should provide further transparency by using two new CCR indicators that are estimations of how many graduates are academically prepared. Using CCR coursework completion and CCR assessment data against a state's graduation rate, we have found some states give out diplomas to many graduates without the academic preparation for college or career.

"Our intentions with this report are two-fold," Cohen said. "First, we want to bring the focus of the conversation around readiness to results-the actual performance of high school graduates in each state. We hope that this work will enable state leaders to determine the extent to which their K-12 system is producing college- and career-ready graduates, whether they are satisfied with the results, and if not, what they can do to improve those results. Secondly, we hope to draw attention to the need to improve metrics to evaluate performance and progress. Too many states do not yet report on critical indicators that are needed to understand and support postsecondary readiness."

The cross-state comparison report and 51 state performance profiles are available on Achieve's website. The postsecondary comparison report will be released in the coming weeks.


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