Given the importance of preparing students for success in our dynamic and changing world, most states now incorporate indicators of college and career readiness into their accountability systems; however, there is wide variation in the quality of measures they use.
For example, the percentage of students enrolling in postsecondary education is greater than the percentage of students deemed college- and career-ready in 34 states. In other words, many states undermeasure college and career readiness, especially for students of color. To address this, states can use a combination of indicators that include actual evidence of college and career readiness, such as postsecondary enrollment and remediation rates. Postsecondary education and workforce outcomes data should be used to demonstrate whether students’ high school experiences actually resulted in postsecondary success.
In addition, some states prioritize either college readiness or career readiness, rather than adopting an integrated approach that emphasizes both. For instance, 34 states incorporate both college-ready and career-ready measures into their education systems, and 13 of them also measure students’ readiness for the military. However, most states do not expect students to demonstrate readiness for college coursework if they opt for a career- or military-ready option, and vice versa. An effective accountability system should encompass a blend of measures and give equal importance to both college and career readiness, instead of favoring one over the other.
Finally, states should recognize that some measures of college and career readiness are stronger predictors of success than others. However, most college and career readiness indicators treat each measure the same, regardless of whether it is backed by stronger evidence that completing that measure improves students’ abilities to succeed in postsecondary education and work. For example, earning college credit through dual enrollment may be treated similarly to participating in an Advanced Placement (AP) course (even if the student did not do well enough on the AP exam to earn college credit). States can more effectively measure and promote college and career readiness by using an index that:
- includes measures of college readiness and measures of career readiness;
- includes measures that demonstrate readiness, such as college enrollment and remediation rates, rather than relying solely on measures that predict readiness, such as success in advanced coursework; and
- prioritizes measures backed by the strongest evidence of leading to postsecondary success;
- and prioritizes the integration of college career readiness.
For more than a decade, state education leaders have worked to better align academic content between high school and higher education and to measure not only whether high schools help students earn a diploma, but also whether those graduates are college and career ready. Even better, they have gone beyond measuring students’ postsecondary preparation by incentivizing high schools to focus on improving students’ preparation for postsecondary opportunities. Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, the majority of states have incorporated college and career readiness (CCR) indicators into their accountability systems for high schools—a key tool state policymakers use to signal which student outcomes are critically important and to support school leaders and educators in improving those outcomes.
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Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, 37 states have added college and career readiness indicators into their accountability systems for high schools. However, because there is no uniform way to measure readiness, states developed different metrics and set different standards for how students are deemed prepared. This raises questions of whether certain states’ approaches are more effective in evaluating student preparedness than others, which we explored in our March 2023 report, Undermeasuring: College and Career Readiness Indicators May Not Reflect College and Career Outcomes. We found that many states’ indicators may be “undermeasuring” students’ postsecondary potential, just as many highly qualified students are “undermatched” and do not enroll in colleges that reflect their abilities.
Given these findings, the report offered several recommendations for state leaders to improve their college and career readiness indicators and highlighted a number of states leading the way. In this series, we follow up with three of them: California, Louisiana, and Georgia.
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Good Financial Stewardship:
Education Program Transparency and Oversight Bill
Model Policy to build and sustain strong and transparent data systems.
Undermeasuring Students’ Postsecondary Potential
Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, the majority of states have been incentivizing high schools to improve students’ preparation for postsecondary opportunities by holding schools accountable for ensuring students graduate prepared.
As the COVID-19 economic downturn has shown, there has never been a better time to have the right skills—or a worse time to have the wrong ones. Some students begin careers right after high school, but most good-paying jobs require college or postsecondary career training.