What Will “College and Career Ready” Mean in the Future?

We know that the driving force behind the Common Core State Standards is to promote college and career readiness for all students. But what does “college and career ready” really mean? David Conley, one of the leading national authorities on college and career readiness, has just published a new book for educators working to align their curriculum and instruction with the higher expectations of the Common Core. Getting Ready for College, Careers, and the Common Core (Jossey-Bass, October 2013) provides CCSS implementation strategies and a wealth of tools that will help teachers and school leaders to engage in deep and meaningful implementation of the Common Core.

My current definition of college and career readiness is built around students being able to succeed in credit-bearing, entry-level college courses without the need for remediation, particularly in relation to their area of interest. It is a definition that does not take into account institutional variation in the nature and challenge level of entry-level courses or in the range of potential student interests. This definition is useful because it expresses well the need for alignment between high school preparation programs and college expectations. It does not, though, go so far as to suggest that students need dramatically different knowledge and skill sets for each of the thousands of programs of study available in the nearly four thousand postsecondary institutions in the United States.

It does mean that readiness can be better defined and assessed, and then aligned with college and program types. Research on college readiness is beginning to provide much more detailed profiles and descriptions of readiness at the level of programs of study. These findings can be used to determine better where individual students stand in relation to their aspirations and the expectations they will face in college and job training programs. As this line of research continues to mature, students will be able to think of readiness in terms of four or five levels of knowledge and skill cross-referenced against a dozen or more pathways that comprise groups of occupations, careers, or college majors. While this model requires significantly more information than a single score on an admissions test or state exam or a grade point average currently provides, its effects will be powerful and will help to increase first-year college success rates and speed time to degree completion. Doing so will reduce student debt, a key goal in the immediate future, and will also allow postsecondary programs to be held more accountable for the decisions they make to admit students and how the support they provide those they admit.

It’s worth noting that none of this is meant to suggest that all students should not be provided the opportunity to learn all of the Common Core State Standards. A challenging program of study is key for all students to develop a strong core knowledge and skill set. Given the opportunity to learn the Common Core, some students will excel in one or more areas and perhaps not fare quite as well in others. These students should be allowed to begin their postsecondary education without penalty if their areas of strength align with their career aspirations and the postsecondary program they are entering. This is particularly true when students also possess the strong motivation and self-management skills that can help them overcome skill deficits in selected areas.

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