This is part three of three in our “College and Career Readiness Close-Up” series examining innovative, leading state practices in holding schools accountable for providing pathways for high school students that prepare them for postsecondary education and work.
Most states measure college and career readiness by examining what students do during high school—not by taking a look at whether, or not, they were actually ready for what comes next. This isn’t because states lack the data; nearly every state publicly reports college enrollment for recent high school graduates. Rather, it’s a choice. Only four states opt to use postsecondary outcomes data for high school accountability, and only one of them looks at whether students actually enroll in college-level, non-remedial courses: Georgia.
Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Indicator
Georgia’s readiness accountability component measures whether students (1) participate in activities that prepare them for college or a career and (2) demonstrate readiness for college or a career. It is one of five accountability components in Georgia. Within the readiness component for high schools, there are five indicators (see Figure 1).:
- at or above grade level reading (formerly called literacy),
- student attendance,
- accelerated enrollment,
- pathway completion, and
- college and career readiness.
While the accelerated enrollment and pathway completion indicators include measures many other states consider in their college and career readiness indicators, such as earning credit through Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and dual enrollment courses and completing course pathways in high school, the college and career readiness indicator is focused on readiness measures that are verified externally (e.g., through an assessment).
Figure 1. Measures in the Readiness Component of Georgia’s Accountability System, 2019
The college and career readiness indicator takes into account strong predictors of college readiness (i.e., achieving a readiness score on the ACT or SAT and passing at least two AP or IB exams) and predictors of career readiness (i.e., passing an end of pathway assessment resulting in a national or state industry-recognized credential and completing a work-based learning program). In 2023, Georgia also added a predictor of military readiness based on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) assessment.
But what makes Georgia truly stand out is that the college and career readiness indicator also includes evidence of college success: the percentage of former students who enroll in college-level coursework, without needing remediation, at public, in-state community colleges and universities in the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG)1The Technical College System of Georgia consists of 22 colleges that offer technical education, adult literacy programs, and customized business and industry training. or the University System of Georgia (USG).2The University System of Georgia consists of 26 higher education institutions including four research universities, four comprehensive universities, nine state universities and nine state colleges.
Remediation Data Paints a More Accurate Picture of Readiness
Despite 37 states using college and career readiness indicators, only four states use postsecondary data—actual evidence of college readiness—for high school accountability: Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, and Vermont. Connecticut, Michigan, and Vermont look at postsecondary enrollment data; Georgia is the only state that relies on college remediation data. While the proxy measures (such as success in AP, IB, and dual enrollment courses) are good predictors of students’ success beyond high school, data on actual postsecondary outcomes, such as college enrollment and remediation rates, provides state and district leaders, educators, and the public with evidence of how well high schools are preparing students. And these data points, especially postsecondary enrollment for recent high school graduates, are readily and widely available. For example, our research found all but two states reported at least some college enrollment data for high school graduates, and 28 reported remediation rates.
While the rate of high school graduates transitioning into higher education is a helpful indicator of their preparedness—and one we would encourage more states to consider—college remediation more closely captures the information readiness indicators are intended to measure. That is because enrolling in higher education does not necessarily mean being prepared for higher education coursework, particularly at institutions with non-selective or open admissions policies.
This distinction can be seen in Georgia. According to data published by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement on high school graduate outcomes, two thirds (67%) of Georgia’s 2018 high school graduating cohort enrolled in college (including in-state and out-of-state, public and private, and four-year and two-year institutions) within 16 months of graduation. In contrast, according to the state report card (see Figure 2), less than one third (30.4%) of the 2018 graduating class enrolled in a TCSG or USG institution and did not take any remedial courses during their first year of study.
Figure 2. College Enrollment Compared to College Enrollment without Remediation in Georgia
Using college enrollment without the need for remediation as a measure of college and career readiness, instead of college enrollment alone, helps Georgia paint a clearer picture of whether its high school graduates were truly ready for college-level work.
College Remediation Data Provides Evidence of College Success
Using enrollment in college-level coursework after high school graduation as an accountability measure also provides unique insights that typical predictors of college success may not generate. For example, an impressive 90% of the 2018 graduating class in Schley County were reported as “college and career ready” (see Figure 3). However, if Georgia had only examined the rate of students achieving a readiness score on the ACT, SAT, AP or IB exams—one of the most common measures other states use for college readiness—less than a quarter (22%) of Schley’s graduates would have been deemed prepared for college. And while a majority (62%) of Schley graduates showed readiness by earning an industry-recognized credential through an end of pathway assessment, that data point tells more about students’ career readiness than college preparation.
College remediation data helps tell a more accurate, and complete, story about student readiness in Schley County: an even higher percentage—two thirds (67%)—of its graduates were ready for college-level coursework, as they enrolled in a TCSG or USG institution without taking any remediation during their first year of college. Without this piece of information on college preparedness, report card users may be given the false impression that most Schley students in the class of 2018 were ready for careers, but not for college, when in fact similar rates of students were prepared for either.
Figure 3. Schley County Report Card, 2019
Building Data Infrastructure and Partnerships to Improve Postsecondary Outcomes Data
If postsecondary outcomes data are such a useful accountability measure, why are only four states using it? States may be reluctant to use postsecondary outcome data for high school accountability for several reasons.
First, they may have concerns over data availability. While postsecondary enrollment data is widely available through the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit education organization that gathers student enrollment information at colleges and universities nationwide, postsecondary remediation data is not. Obtaining information about high school graduates’ placement in credit-bearing college-level coursework requires states to develop high-quality data linkages and maintain efficient data-sharing processes between K–12 and higher education agencies. Without statewide data infrastructure, it can be challenging to connect postsecondary outcome data with high school data efficiently.
Thanks to cross-agency data-sharing partnerships, the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) has easy access to high school graduates’ postsecondary data and, thus, can use data from in-state, public higher education institutions for K–12 school accountability in a timely manner. Every year, the GaDOE provides the TCSG and the USG with a list of the previous year’s high school graduates; the higher education systems then return the list with information such as which institution(s) a student was enrolled in and whether that student enrolled in remedial courses. Additionally, Georgia has developed a statewide longitudinal data system, Georgia’s Academic and Workforce Analysis and Research Data System (GA•AWARDS), which all three agencies are part of. These partnerships enable the GaDOE to include remediation data for the prior year’s graduating cohort in its accountability system with only a one-year lag (i.e., accountability results in the fall of 2023 mostly include data from the 2022-23 school year, but the remediation data is for the class who graduated in the 2021-22 school year). As many states already use lagged data to report high school graduation rates, the small delay does not significantly affect the relevance or utility of the data. However, states should make note of lagged data on their report cards and clearly indicate the high school cohort to which the data apply.
Secondly, education leaders may also be concerned about the quality of postsecondary outcome data. For instance, the data cannot tell the full story of student success after high school if it does not account for students attending private or out-of-state colleges or entering the military or workforce. In this case, states should focus on investing in their data infrastructure to access more data points so they can provide as much context to the postsecondary outcome data as possible—including exploring collaboration with neighboring states in regional partnerships and linking their K–12 and workforce data systems. States adding a postsecondary outcome measure to their college and career readiness indicator(s) may also want to maintain some of their current readiness measures (rather than replace them) even though their existing measures only predict student postsecondary success, because they can be measured for all students in the high school graduating class.
Another data quality concern leaders may have specific to remediation data is that it has become a less accurate measure of college readiness as higher education institutions transition to a corequisite remediation model (where students enroll in college-level, credit-bearing courses while receiving academic support alongside their regular classes). These approaches are increasingly popular, given research showing promising evidence of the model’s effectiveness. However, in states using corequisite models, data collection practices and definitions could be updated so that higher education systems collect data on students needing corequisite support, in addition to data on students needing traditional, stand-alone remediation. Also, other postsecondary data points besides remediation could be good candidates for high school accountability measures, such as college persistence, retention, or first-year performance (e.g., credit hours earned and/or grade point average).
Finally, skeptics of using postsecondary data in high school accountability may also question whether it is fair to hold high schools accountable for students’ experiences after leaving the K–12 system, arguing that these outcomes—and improving them—are largely outside of school districts’ and principals’ control. To ameliorate this concern, states could consider giving these measures relatively low weight at first. For example, Georgia’s college remediation measure is only one of the five measures in the college and career readiness indicator, which is one of the five indicators to evaluate high school students’ preparedness.
Georgia sets itself apart by being the only state that incorporates college remediation as a college and career readiness measure for high school accountability. Postsecondary outcome data, such as remediation, paints a more accurate picture of high school graduates’ preparedness for college because, rather than predicting if students are likely to be successful in college, it provides evidence that students were, or were not, successful. Although currently available postsecondary outcome data has some limitations in terms of quality and timeliness, these limitations can be overcome—especially if states improve statewide data linkages and partnerships and invest in their longitudinal education and workforce data systems. And with postsecondary outcome data for high school graduates so widely reported, more states should maximize the benefits of this data by using it for accountability purposes. The ultimate goal of any high school is to ensure students graduate prepared for what they do next; now that states have data on postsecondary outcomes, it’s time to hold schools accountable for it.
- 1The Technical College System of Georgia consists of 22 colleges that offer technical education, adult literacy programs, and customized business and industry training.
- 2The University System of Georgia consists of 26 higher education institutions including four research universities, four comprehensive universities, nine state universities and nine state colleges.
Update: The explanation of the types of institutions included in the University System of Georgia has been modified since initial publication.