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CLOSING THE EXPECTATIONS GAP: Achieve Grades States on High School Reform Efforts

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"The pace and the progress of high school reform efforts are encouraging."

Since 2005, Achieve has surveyed all fifty states and the District of Columbia about their status in aligning high school standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems to the expectations of college and the workforce. According to Achieve’s latest report,Closing the Expectations Gap 2008, a majority of states have committed to raise expectations for high school students and more than one third have already adopted college- and career-ready standards and graduation requirements. However, only nine states expect to have college- and career-ready testing systems in place by the end of 2008, and only four will hold high schools accountable for their students’ readiness.

“The pace and the progress of high school reform efforts are encouraging,” said Matthew Gandal, executive vice president of Achieve, “but no state has done everything that is necessary to close the gap between what is required of students in high school and what will be expected of them after they graduate. Higher standards must be accompanied by better assessments and next generation accountability systems if we are to realize the goal of all students graduating college and career ready.”

Indeed, the report notes that no state will have all five policies (standards, graduation rates, assessments, P-20 data systems, and accountability) in place in 2008 and only three (Louisiana, New York, and Texas) have four of the five policies in place. Additionally, nineteen states currently do not have any of the policies in place, and another fourteen states will only have one of the five policies in place in 2008-together, these states represent two thirds of the fifty states.

However, Achieve did discover that many states anticipate having these policies in place in 2009 or are in the process or are planning to do so in the future. According to the report, nineteen states will have their high school standards aligned to postsecondary expectations in 2008, with an additional twenty-six states saying that they are currently in the process or plan to do so. And when asked about their graduation requirements, eighteen states and the District of Columbia said that they currently require all students to complete a college- and career-ready curriculum to earn their diploma, and twelve other states plan to adopt similar requirements in the future.

When it comes to implementing policies related to assessments, P-20 data systems, and accountability, states have made less progress. According to the report, only nine states administer college-readiness tests to all high school students as part of their statewide assessment systems, and only eight say that they have P-20 longitudinal data systems that match K-12 data with postsecondary data to track the progress of individual students from kindergarten through college. However, an additional twenty-three states report plans to administer college-readiness exams in the future while an additional thirty-nine are currently developing P-20 data systems.

States also struggle when it comes to evaluating high schools and holding them accountable for student improvement. In its survey, Achieve identified only four states (Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, and Texas) that currently factor both a cohort graduation rate and the earning of a college- and career-ready diploma into their systems for evaluating high schools. Additionally, only six states (Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia are in process or planning to implement such a system in the near future.

“States will need to pay more attention to these policy levers if the promise of these reforms is to be realized,” the report reads. “Newly adopted standards will be of marginal value without aligned assessments to measure student performance. Similarly, raising graduation requirements for students without holding schools accountable for ensuring that students meet the new standards is both unfair and ineffective.”

The complete report is available at http://www.achieve.org/node/990.

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