What Does “College- and Career-Ready” Actually Mean?


Dave StuartDave Stuart Jr. teaches English and world history in Cedar Springs, Michigan. He also writes a popular blog on teaching the Common Core State Standards, called Teaching the Core (www.teachingthecore.com). With over ten thousand monthly readers, Dave’s blog has been a beacon of light for teachers who refuse to freak out about the Common Core. He also speaks and gives workshops on literacy instruction, and he has served as an adjunct professor at Aquinas College. Below is a sneak peek at his new book, A Non–Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core, to be released later this month. Enjoy!

What does “college- and career-ready” actually mean?

To answer that, I examined the broad overview of college and career readiness  provided in the introductory matter of the CCSS [Common Core State Standards], which explains that a college- and career-ready person can do the following (NGA & CCSSO, 2010, p. 7):

1. “Demonstrate independence”
2. “Build strong content knowledge”
3. “Respond to . . . audience, task, purpose, and discipline”
4. “Comprehend as well as critique”
5. “Value evidence”
6. “Use technology . . . strategically and capably”
7. “Come to understand other perspectives and cultures”

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Demonstrate Independence
College- and career-ready people can, without having their hand held by a teacher, comprehend a diverse array of complex texts; and, using these texts,
they are able to make sensible arguments and communicate complicated information. In other words, if you hand a college- and career-ready person an inorganic chemistry textbook or a training manual, she is not going to look from it to you with lamblike eyes.

Likewise, when listening to a speaker, this person is able to pick up on main points, identify where she is confused, request clarification, ask relevant questions, and competently and thoughtfully engage in a group discussion. Whether they’re sitting in an Intro to Literature discussion group or listening to a colleague present the past quarter’s numbers, college- and career-ready folks can hold their own.

Build Strong Content Knowledge
Some have heard that the CCSS aim to destroy content—students will now only

learn skills, and they won ’ t be required to gain any knowledge. This is an especially dangerous and entirely baseless myth. As you see here and as you’ll see when reading the anchor standards themselves, Common Core implementation approaches that seek to diminish content knowledge are egregiously misinterpreting the aim of the standards and are likely to fail at the expense of our students.

According to the introduction to the standards, college- and career-ready people are lifelong knowledge builders, and this knowledge is built on a robust K–12 foundation. They build knowledge at both broad and discipline-specific levels by engaging with “high-quality works” (NGA & CCSSO, 2010 , p. 7). Essentially, these people enjoy accumulating knowledge, thanks to their participation in a coherent, content-rich K–12 curriculum. Though the CCSS intentionally avoid dictating what this content should be, they are not shy about insisting that it should be rich and increasingly complex as the grades progress.

Respond to Audience, Task, Purpose, and Discipline
As mentioned earlier, college- and career-ready people understand that effective communicators adapt to their context. If they’re trying to gain the boss’s support for an idea, they will communicate one way, but if they are trying to articulate insights from an experiment, they will communicate another way. They know that written and spoken conventions vary based on a variety of factors, and that a smiley face emoticon is not appropriate for an argumentative essay. ☺ In short, college- and career-ready people recognize the communicative demands of a given situation.

Comprehend as Well as Critique
Most people are quick to comprehend or quick to critique; few do both. For example, my students and I were reading Animal Farm (Orwell, 1945) one time, and we were discussing the use of propaganda. I asked students to conduct Google searches for various types of propaganda, and, though what they found ranged from hilarious to haunting, I was most taken aback by a proud student displaying a faux political campaign poster on which President Barack Obama’s head, chin tilted high, was positioned over a single, bold-print word: “SNOB.”

After capturing and silencing the doomsaying monkeys inside of my head that see such sardonic name-calling toward the executive branch as a sign of America’s end times, I was able to look at this “text” in terms of college and career readiness.

According to the CCSS, students who are college and career ready would be able to both comprehend and critique this image. They are open minded, yet discerning; they “work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims and the soundness of reasoning” (NGA & CCSSO, 2010 , p. 7).

And so, in this case, a college- and career-ready person would understand what the poster was referring to (claims that President Obama is an elitist), yet he could also question where these claims come from. A college- and career-ready person would be able to do this no matter which side of the political spectrum she personally agreed with, and, if she had questions (for example, Where do claims of President Obama’s elitism originate?), she would have either the gumption to look them up or the honesty to say that she wasn’t sure about the answers.

Value Evidence
When sharing their interpretations of a movie, a newspaper, an all-company email, or a syllabus, college- and career-ready people cite specific evidence as a habit of mind. “No, Captain America wasn’t a perfect hero,” one of my students once said. “After all, he kissed that random girl while the girl he actually loved watched. Fail.” At first I ignored the comment as one of the many random data points in the day of a teacher; yet after a minute I found myself sharing this student’s statement with the entire class as a down-to-earth example of the use of textual evidence, explaining that, in this case, the “text” was a movie.

CLAIM: Captain America is not a perfect hero.
EVIDENCE: He kissed the random girl.

In addition, college- and career-ready people make their reasoning clear to their reader or listener. In other words, they don ’ t just do what I call “quote bombing”—where you drop in a quote that backs up your argument without any explanation of how it does so—instead making clear what a given piece of evidence is being used for.

Use Technology Strategically and Capably
College- and career-ready people have a clear idea of the strengths and limitations of technology. They use Wikipedia for developing background knowledge, not for proving a point in an argument. They appreciate the spell-checker, but they know that it doesn’t catch homonyms; they install extensions in their Web browser that make definitions of difficult words a double-click away, but they know that words have nuances and multiple meanings; they habitually Google a question if they have one, and they try various ways of posing the question if they don’t quickly find the information they’re looking for. In other words, a college- and career-ready person sees technology as a tool, not as a shiny object or an omniscient benefactor.

 Come to Understand Other Perspectives and Cultures
Finally, college- and career-ready students recognize that generalizations about peoples, places, tribes, and races are always inaccurate. There is no one thing that all white people do. There is no one attitude that all Muslims have. There is no one temperament of all black people.

Human beings are perhaps unquantifiably complex, especially in groups, and rather than fear this truth or generalize it away, college- and career-ready people actively seek to understand perspectives and cultures different from their own. This does not necessitate swallowing a postmodern, view of the world; it just means that the college- and career-ready person is on a quest for understanding.



A Non-Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core: Using the 32 Literacy Anchor Standards to Develop College- and Career-Ready StudentsImplement the Common Core for ELA without all the stress!

Buy NowA Non–Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core uses the often-neglected anchor standards to get to the heart of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—teaching students the skills they need to be college and career ready. Each anchor standard is broken down into its key points, and a discussion of each anchor standard’s central purpose helps outline the context for each required skill. This easy-to-read guide gives educators the kind of clear explanations, examples, and strategies they need to feel comfortable teaching the CCSS, and shows how CCSS skills can be integrated into virtually any existing lesson plan.

“If you’re a teacher or admin wondering how to help your students play the academic intellectual game, Dave Stuart is your guy!”

—Gerald Graff, professor of English and Education, University of Illinois at Chicago;
2008 president, Modern Language Association of America

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