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CLOSING THE EXPECTATIONS GAP: Less Than Half of U.S. States Have Aligned Graduation Requirements with New College- and Career-Ready Standards, New Report Finds

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"Exposing all students to the full range of CCR standards by requiring students to complete a course of study in high school aligned to the full set of CCR expectations is one of the most important ways states can help ensure that graduates will be academically prepared for their next steps after high school.”

Achieve’s ninth annual Closing the Expectations Gap report credits all fifty states for adopting college- and career-ready (CCR) standards in mathematics and English language arts (ELA) for grades K–12, but it notes that only twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have raised their high school graduation requirements to align with these standards. As a result, more than half of U.S. states do not require a CCR preparatory course of study for an individual to graduate from high school.

“For the implementation of CCR standards to be meaningful, students must be required to actually be exposed to all of the states’ mathematics and ELA standards in order to receive a high school diploma,” the report notes. “While CCR standards define the academic knowledge and skills necessary for postsecondary success, they are not self-executing. The standards need to be translated into courses and learning experiences for students. … Exposing all students to the full range of CCR standards by requiring students to complete a course of study in high school aligned to the full set of CCR expectations is one of the most important ways states can help ensure that graduates will be academically prepared for their next steps after high school.”

As shown in the map to the right taken from the report, ten states and the District of Columbia have established a mandatory CCR diploma, which typically includes at least three years of mathematics and four years of ELA. An additional thirteen states automatically enroll all students in a CCR course of study, but permit students to opt out of the requirements or modify courses with their parents’ permission.

The report notes that the remaining twenty-seven states “undoubtedly have gaps between the content and skills articulated in the standards and the courses currently required for a high school diploma.”

Regardless of a state’s graduation requirements, the report says that every state should “collect the data necessary to enable them to analyze course-taking patterns of high school students.” Such data would allow states to determine how prepared their high school graduates are for college, what percentage need remedial courses in college, and whether there are gaps in completion of CCR courses of study based on race, gender, income, or other factors.

According to the report, thirty-two states say their data systems can or will enable them to know which courses best prepare students for college and career success while eight additional states plan to develop such systems. Even though most states have the ability to analyze course-taking data, the report notes that very few have actually completed a comprehensive analysis of their data.

In addition to standards and graduation requirements, Closing the Expectations Gap also focuses on assessments and accountability systems. It notes that thirty-six states will administer an assessment this year that can measure students’ readiness for first-year credit bearing college courses in math and ELA. While some of these states belong to one of the two common assessment consortia (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, others will administer the ACT or SAT to all students—usually in the eleventh grade.

Regarding accountability, the report finds that thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia publicly report or include in their school accountability formulas at least one of the four accountability indicators that Achieve identifies as critical to promoting college and career readiness: (1) percentage of students who graduate from high school with a CCR diploma; (2) percentage of students who score at the college-ready level on high school assessments aligned with CCR standards; (3) percentage of students who earn college credit through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and/or dual enrollment; and (4) percentage of high school graduates who are placed into postsecondary courses in remedial reading, writing, or mathematics. The report notes that no state uses all of the indicators in its accountability system, but Hawaii and Texas publicly report school-level data on each of the four indicators.

Closing the Expectations Gap is based on a survey that Achieve conducts annually with each state and the District of Columbia on the steps they are taking to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college and the workplace.

“States have made some progress in closing the expectations gap and aligning high school expectations with those of colleges and the working world,” said Mike Cohen, president of Achieve. “However, this year’s survey also tells us that there is much work yet to be done if all students are to graduate from high school prepared for success. While all states have college- and career-ready standards in place, standards alone are not enough. Each state must employ a coherent approach to college and career readiness, which includes having policies that align graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems, to graduate all students ready for their next steps.”

Closing the Expectations Gap is available at http://www.achieve.org/files/Achieve-ClosingExpectGap2014%20Feb5.pdf.

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