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Are 12th Graders Prepared for College?

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August 17, 2010 08:09 pm


President Obama last week repeated his goal to make the United States once again the world leader in college graduation by 2020. To achieve that ambitious but vital goal, high schools must ensure that all students graduate prepared for college. How many students now are prepared for higher education? Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer to that question.

That may change in the next year. The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), the group that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), is conducting a series of studies to see if the board can use the results of the 2009 NAEP mathematics and reading assessments to estimate how many 12th graders are prepared for postsecondary education.

To conduct the analysis, NAGB is planning five types of studies:

  • Content alignment studies, to determine the match between NAEP and other tests of postsecondary preparedness, like the SAT and ACT.
  • Statistical alignment studies, to link NAEP scores with scores on other tests.
  • Judgmental studies, to set cut scores on measures such as college placement tests and job training.
  • Surveys, to determine the cut scores already used in college placement tests.
  • Benchmarking studies, to determine how students already in college perform on NAEP. As part of this work, NAGB is looking into administering NAEP to first-year college freshmen in Texas to determine the NAEP scores associated with students in entry-level coursework without the need for remediation.

NAGB is careful to note that the studies are aiming to pinpoint “college preparedness”—that is, the reading and mathematics skills needed to qualify for placement into entry-level college coursework without remediation. Similarly, the board is also looking at the reading and mathematics skills and knowledge needed to qualify for job-training programs. College and work readiness is broader—it includes a number of non-academic abilities that NAEP does not measure.

Nevertheless, when the studies are completed over the next few months, NAGB might be able to report—for the first time ever—the level of performance on NAEP that indicates that students are prepared for postsecondary education and training. Then, using the 2009 results, the nation will know—again for the first time—how many students are prepared for college and workplace training. This would break new ground. Then schools will know how far they need to go to meet President Obama’s goal.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.