Once seen as the key to success as an adult, today’s high school diploma no longer certifies that a graduate is ready to compete in the college classroom or the workplace. Ready or Not: Creating a Diploma that Counts, a report released by the American Diploma Project, says that high school graduates must master more English and mathematics if the value of the diploma is to be restored. The report includes a very detailed set of benchmarks that describe the specific English and mathematics knowledge and skills that graduates must master if they expect to succeed in postsecondary education or in high-performance, high-growth jobs. The American Diploma Project is a partnership of Achieve, Inc.; The Education Trust; and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
The report recommends that public secondary schools anchor their standards to the “real world” and that all high school students take quality college- and workplace-readiness courses. The report also advises the federal government to require all states to conduct a 12th-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) examination. The No Child Left Behind Act currently requires that the states conduct the NAEP examination of 4th- and 8th-graders only.
“People who grouse about high-school exit tests are voicing the wrong objection,” said Thomas B. Fordham Foundation President Chester E. Finn Jr. “What should spark real dismay is the gap between what states expect of high school graduates and what the real world demands for their success.”
According to the report, at least 28 percent of students entering college need remedial classes in English or math. Students taking remedial courses are 20 percent less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than their better-prepared colleagues. What is more, over 60 percent of employers rate high-school graduates’ skills in basic English and mathematics as fair or poor.
Several of the Diploma Project’s recommendations are already in place in existing law. The recommendation that the federal government require postsecondary institutions to provide information about the preparation of high school graduates is supported (though not met) by several existing initiatives, including the Federal TRIO Programs and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). TRIO is composed of several programs targeted to serve low-income, first-generation college students and students with disabilities to help them progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs. GEAR UP connects a high school career to college success through partnerships that promote academic preparation and an understanding of necessary costs to attend college. Both programs have strong track records for helping disadvantaged students progress through the academic pipeline from middle school through college, but they currently serve only 10 percent to 20 percent of eligible students.
The President’s proposed Jobs for the 21st Century Initiative would provide $33 million for an additional Pell award of up to $1,000 to low-income students who participate in the State Scholars program, which encourages low-income students to complete a rigorous four-year course of study. Another $12 million is proposed to increase the number of states implementing the State Scholars program. If enacted, such programs would support the Diploma Project’s recommendations that the federal government provide incentives for high school students to take appropriate courses and offer resources for states to align high school standards with skills desired by colleges and workplaces.
The complete report is available at: http://www.achieve.org/achieve.nsf/AmericanDiplomaProject?OpenForm.