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MEANDERING TOWARD GRADUATION: Nearly Half of High School Graduates Are Not Ready for College or a Career, Says New Ed Trust Report

Latino students and students from low-income families were significantly more likely to not complete any cohesive curriculum.

Nearly half of all high school graduates from the Class of 2013 failed to complete a college- or career-ready course of study, according to a new report from the Education Trust (Ed Trust), a national nonprofit advocacy organization. Meanwhile, only 8 percent completed a full college- and career-ready curriculum while only 41 percent completed a college-ready track.

Based on high school transcript data, the report, Meandering Toward Graduation, groups students into several categories based on the courses they have completed:

  • College ready: Four credits of English; three credits of math, including Algebra II; three credits of science, including biology and chemistry or physics; three credits of social studies, including U.S. or world history; and two credits in the same foreign language.
  • Career ready: Three or more credits in a “broad career field such as health science or business and marketing.”
  • College and career ready: Includes both college-ready and career-ready sequences.
  • No cohesive curriculum: Consists of neither the college-ready nor the career-ready sequence.

“High school leaders need to be intentional about getting all students into a rigorous and cohesive course of study,” said Sonja Brookins Santelises, Ed Trust vice president of K–12 policy and practice. “But they can’t stop there. They must ensure that all students—especially students of color and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds—have the supports and quality instruction they need to be successful in all of their courses and prepared for life after high school.”

Although the report finds no significant difference between the percentages of white (39 percent), black (43 percent), and Latino (38 percent) students who complete a college-ready or college- and career-ready curriculum, students from low-income families were 14 percentage points less likely to complete these tracks than better advantaged students, as evidenced by the purple and green sections in the graph below. Additionally, Latino students and students from low-income families were significantly more likely to not complete any cohesive curriculum.

Course Taking by Race and Socioeconomic Status (SES)

In addition to course taking, the report examines grade point average (GPA) to determine how well students are mastering the courses they take. It finds significant gaps between the rate at which white students demonstrate mastery compared to students of color and students from low-income families. Among students who completed a college-ready curriculum, 82 percent of white graduates earned a 2.5 (out of 4.0) GPA or higher, compared with 64 percent of students from low-income families, 63 percent of Latino graduates, and 51 percent of black graduates. “GPA gaps within curriculum categories suggest that students aren’t being afforded equitable preparation, instruction, or support to master material in their courses,” the report notes.

Throughout the report, Ed Trust includes implications for educators and school-based levers for change designed to close some of the gaps between the courses that high school students take and the courses that prepare them for college. For example, it notes that students who were career ready but not college ready took almost seven career and technical education credits yet frequently fell short of college-ready course requirements in math (43 percent), science (54 percent), and foreign language (66 percent).

“Many states don’t require students to take the courses that determine eligibility to attend public colleges,” the report notes. “Foreign language is a good example: It’s required by most public colleges, yet most state policies don’t require it for graduation.”

The report suggests that high school counselors should “ensure that students understand requirements not only for graduation, but also for entry in different postsecondary settings that are aligned with students’ goals.”

Meandering Toward Graduation is available at

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