Redefining College Readiness: Part 1

As I prepare my high school students to enter into being full-time college students in their junior year, the discussion from us as educators is, “How do we know our students are ready?” Our country’s Industrial Revolution, in-and- out, school design marks readiness as a passage of time, one that comes with the changing of the seasons and not of mastery of skills and cognitive thought (have you heard of social promotion?).

If the passage of 12th grade is not what defines college readiness- then what does?

This is a topic I love to discuss with educators, parents, and students. We are fortunate that there is plenty of research out there that points us to different measures to give us a good understanding of a student’s aptitude to do well in a college setting.

The two most common approaches are;

·         College entrance exams- Tests like the ACT and SAT measure a student’s content knowledge. For example, the ACT’s website states the English, reading, math, and science sections are supposed to measure a student’s understanding of the subject from high school courses up until the first-year college curricula. Unfortunately, ACT declared 31% of students did not meet any of these benchmarks (

·         Grades- Often colleges look at a student’s high school grades and coursework, including the rigor of the courses and how many core (English, math, science, social studies, and foreign language) courses a student will have.

For some colleges, they will solely base their entire admissions on these two factors.

Let’s break these two approaches down.


·         College entrance exams-. These tests are to determine if a student has a set of knowledge that are presumed for success in entry-level college courses. Standardized tests are just that- standard. I had a student recently who had a great grade point average, however, her test scores were dismal. Upon further discussion with her, we realized she had a learning disability that was never diagnosed. She succeed only in that she learned how to adapt in a classroom setting (certain testing strategies and self-advocacy), but without these strategies on the test, she floundered.

If the passage of 12th grade is not what defines college readiness- then what does?

·         Grades- Unfortunately, grades are not always reflective of what students learn. I have heard from a local school where students had six Algebra 1 teachers in one year! Another student in my office, received an A in her AP course, only to receive a 1 on the test (you get a 1 if you just put your name on the test!). Problems exist where there can be a revolving doors of teachers, unqualified or uncertified teachers, and too many students in a classroom. So often times, simply taking prescribed courses, especially in schools with low academic standards and expectations, is not a sufficient measure of college readiness.

There is a movement to broaden the term “college readiness” to include other skills that makes a student successful in life.

In the next part of this series, I am going to explore other areas of college readiness as defined by current research and the implications for students and parents. Stay tuned.

Dr. Amanda SterkComment