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POLICY IMPLICATIONS ON PREPARING FOR HIGHER STANDARDS: College- and Career-Ready Standards Can Help Close Perception Gap on Student Preparedness, ACT Curriculum Survey Finds

“When high school teachers believe their students are well prepared for college-level courses, but colleges disagree, we have a problem,”said Jon Erickson

A large gap persists between how prepared high school teachers believe their graduating students are for college-level course work and what college instructors expect their first-year students to know, according to the 2012 ACT National Curriculum Survey. The report, Policy Implications on Preparing for Higher Standards, finds that while improved standards—such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or ACT’s College Readiness Standards—are intended to close this gap, states, districts, schools, and teachers need to ensure they are prepared to teach college- and career-ready standards. The report offers policy recommendations to assist states in their preparation.

“When high school teachers believe their students are well prepared for college-level courses, but colleges disagree, we have a problem,”said Jon Erickson, ACT’s president of education. “If we are to improve the college and career readiness of our nation’s high school graduates, we must make sure that our standards are aligned between high school and college. States have raised expectations by increasing educational standards over the past few years. This report provides an important reminder that we also need to bring school curricula up to the same heightened expectations.”

policy implications

As shown in the graph to the right, nearly 90 percent of high school teachers surveyed believe that their students are prepared for college-level work, compared to 26 percent of college instructors who believe the same. Those percentages are largely unchanged since 2009.

The report offers three policy recommendations to help states in the pursuit of college and career readiness for all students.

First, the report recommends increasing and improving the amount and quality of professional development about college- and career-ready standards at the K–12 level. The report singles out the importance of high school, where teachers should be educated on the skills their students will need to succeed and how those skills should be taught. The report states that teachers should also have access to quality, continuing professional development to enhance their understanding of the higher standards and ways to improve teaching and learning.

Second, the report recommends that K–12 educators and college instructors collaborate to ensure the higher standards and new curriculum align with the skills needed for students to succeed in postsecondary work. Initiatives that bring educators from all levels together will mediate the expectations gap between these two sets of educators, the report notes.

The final recommendation encourages states and districts to reallocate resources toward equipping students with adequate and quality access to digital technology. With the implementation of higher standards, states will transition to computer-based assessments that are capable of measuring more in-depth knowledge and skills than paper multiple-choice tests. Schools without access to computer technology will be incapable of accessing these higher-order assessments.

Along with the primary finding of the continued perception gap in student preparedness for college between K–12 educators and college-level instructors, the report includes several other findings regarding the CCSS. For example, the report finds a varying degree of familiarity with the standards among teachers surveyed. Specifically, about a quarter of teachers know a lot about the standards, another quarter knows a little, and about half know a “moderate amount.”

Among those aware of the CCSS, 59 percent of middle school teachers, 64 percent of high school teachers, and 50 percent of college developmental instructors said the standards will improve student readiness for college “slightly” or “a great deal.” The proportions of educators who responded “I don’t know” to this question range from nearly one-third to almost half—something the report attributes to a lack of familiarity with the details of the standards.

Addressing the new computer-based assessments that will accompany the CCSS, the report finds that many classrooms need better and/or more secure access to computer technology in order to administer these new assessments. Only 11 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of middle and high school teachers said their students either bring computers to their classes or that their classrooms contain computers. Most other teachers need access to the school’s computer lab to take computer-based assessments, but 10 percent said they could not provide simultaneous computer access to all of their students.

The National Curriculum Survey is conducted every three to five years. The survey asks educators what they think about the curriculum they teach, if assessments adequately measure the skills taught, and what content and knowledge they believe students need to know to be successful in current and future course work. The 2012 survey included elementary teachers for the first time, positing that early childhood education is important for later high school performance.

“You can’t do a good job of measuring whether students are learning the necessary skills to be on track for college and career readiness without knowing what educators are actually teaching and what is expected of students,” said Erickson. “Our research has been providing that information to ACT—along with educators and policymakers—for more than 20 years.”

ACT National Curriculum Survey 2012: Policy Implications on Preparing for Higher Standards is available at

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