The Gap Between Graduation and College and Career Readiness

Here, at Collaborative, we live on a steady diet of education news, research, opinion and conversation. Whether it be a tweet, a commentary or a policy paper, if it’s about teaching and learning, in or out of school, we are reading, watching and listening.

In my new blog series #TalkAbtEd I’ll highlight some of the trends, stories and reports that folks at Collaborative are thinking and talking about. From the inspirational (see, for example, NPR’s wonderful “50 Great Teachers” series) to the nitty-gritty of education data (NCES’s Digest of Education Statistics, anyone?), this series will run the gamut to discuss what’s new and important in the education conversation.

This week’s post looks at the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data and the ongoing national conversation about college and career readiness. So, then, off we go!

By Ian Hickox, Associate, Content Development

Earlier this school year, the Department of Education shared the wonderful news that high school graduation rates in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 82 percent. Such progress is, in part, a testament to the great work on the parts of teachers, school leaders, policymakers, and students themselves, to improve academic outcomes in our schools and communities. Yet, though improved graduation rates are certainly cause for celebration, the latest NAEP data offer a sobering reminder that the 82 percent graduation rate does not represent an unalloyed success.

NAEP, which is given to high school seniors and tests what they know and can do in the areas of math and reading, is among the most useful national measures of student achievement that we have. The latest results show that in 2015, math scores dropped one percentage point and reading scores remained the same since 2013, when the test was last administered. These numbers, in and of themselves, are not all that newsworthy. But when you consider the NAEP results in the context of student college and career readiness, the implications are much more striking.

In fact, what the latest NAEP results show is that over 60 percent of high school seniors are not prepared for college or career success, unchanged since 2013. This stagnation, on its own, is noteworthy because it points to the fact that, on the whole, widespread efforts to improve college and career readiness are not making enough of an impact. Troublingly, it also suggests that despite record high graduation rates, many students are finishing high school with diminished prospects for their futures, and that this pool of underprepared graduates is growing every year.

Moreover, it’s not just NAEP scores that point to the alarming gap between graduation rates and the number of students who are actually ready to take the next step when they graduate. A recently released report from The Education Trust presents findings of an analysis of high school transcripts from across the country that show that 47 percent of high school graduates in 2013 completed neither a college- nor career-ready sequence of courses.

To be sure, a diploma is a vital credential for future success. But high school graduates who are not college and career ready face a much more difficult path forward, with many fewer opportunities ahead of them. And as we approach the end of another school year, after which yet another class of seniors will chart its course forward, the ongoing conversation about college and career readiness is fundamental to improving outcomes for all students in this country. Anymore, high school graduation is an important waypoint, but not a destination unto itself.