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READY? OR NOT?: Roughly 40 Percent of High School Seniors Are College Ready According to New Report Based on NAEP Data

On May 7, data from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—also known as the Nation’s Report Card—shows that large percentages of the nation’s high school seniors performed below the proficient level in reading and math. One week later, on May 14, a new report based on the NAEP data says that only 38 percent of twelfth graders were academically prepared in reading for college while 39 percent were judged so in math. The report, Towards the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as an Indicator of Academic Preparedness for College and Job Training, was released by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which sets policy for NAEP.

“The results are in—and unfortunately they are lackluster,” said David Driscoll, chair of NAGB and former commissioner of education at the Massachusetts Department of Education. “But it is only by knowing these sobering data that we can build the sense of urgency needed to better prepare students for higher education. Failure to prepare America’s twelfth graders for higher education has personal ramifications for our students and an economic impact on our nation. When students have to take remedial courses in college, they have to pay for courses that do not further their degrees, take longer to graduate, are more likely to drop out and therefore may be less able to get jobs that increasingly require postsecondary education and training.”

Students need a score of 302 or better, which corresponds to the proficient achievement level, on the twelfth-grade NAEP reading text to meet the college preparedness benchmark outlined in the report. Students who reach that level are believed to possess the “knowledge, skills, and abilities” in reading that would make them academically prepared for college, defined as an overall first-year grade-point average of B- or better and a low probability of placing into remedial courses in college.

In mathematics, students must score 163 or higher on the twelfth-grade NAEP mathematics test to be considered prepared for college. A score of 163 is above the cut score for the basic level, but it is significantly lower than the proficient cut score of 176.

The report cautions that its academic preparedness findings should be considered “provisional estimates” as they are a “first step and subject to adjustment in the future.”

Compared to college admission tests like the ACT and SAT, which are generally taken prior to twelfth grade and are given only to a self-selected sample of students, NAEP is the only nationally representative sample of twelfth-grade student achievement, the report notes.

“Consequently, NAEP is uniquely positioned to serve as an indicator of academic preparedness for college and job training at grade 12—the point that represents the end of mandatory schooling for most students and the start of postsecondary education and training for adult pursuits,” the report reads.

In the video below, released by NAGB in conjunction with the report, high school and college students, as well as college professors, react to the findings from the report and explain why so few high school students graduate prepared for college.

The report spends significant time retracing how the decision was made to link twelfth-grade NAEP to college preparedness. Work originally began in 2004 when a blue-ribbon panel considering whether NAEP should continue to be given to twelfth graders recommended that the twelfth-grade assessment be transformed to measure the student readiness for college, job training, and the military. “America needs to know how well prepared its high school seniors are … [only NAEP] can provide this information … and it is necessary for our nation’s continued well being that it be provided,” the panel states.

Looking ahead, NAGB will do additional research based on the 2013 data to determine whether NAEP can be used to report academic preparedness at the state level, by demographic subgroups, and for job training.

Towards the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as an Indicator of Academic Preparedness for College and Job Training is available at

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