College Readiness Checklist Fails to Make the Grade

While we've been away this summer, the School Superintendent's Association (AASA) has released a series of National College and Career Readiness Indicators. These three checklists can be used to determine if students will succeed in their chosen postsecondary path of college or career, along with one checklist to determine if they are, according to the Website, ready for life.

AASA calls these research-based metrics, but doesn't cite the research on their Website or indicate the involvement of counselors or college admission officers in the creation of the lists. They go on to state "the campaign is a response to dismal college and career readiness scores reported by standardized test makers that fail to portray a comprehensive picture of student potential."

The comprehensive picture AASA has drawn for college readiness reads as follows:

GPA 2.8 out of 4.0 and one or more of the following benchmarks:
Advanced Placement Exam (3+)
Advanced Placement Course (A, B or C)
Dual Credit College English and/or Math (A, B or C)
College Developmental/Remedial English and/or Math (A, B or C)
Algebra II (A, B or C)
International Baccalaureate Exam (4+)
College Readiness Placement Assessment*

The College-Ready list then goes on to site minimum scores on the ACT, as well as "other factors" that
contribute to college success, including completion of the FAFSA.

The stated goal of the indicators is to prove "Our students are more than a score", a slogan that seems to refer to deciding a student's college readiness based exclusively on the ACT or SAT. Given the list they've created, AASA seems to be suggesting students are indeed more than just one score; they are three scores. If the list is an accurate indicator of college readiness, students are ready to take on the rigors of college as long as they have a minimum score on the ACT; a minimum GPA, and a C in any class from Algebra II to an AP course.

This position is completely counter to the one taken on by school counselors and college admission officers, who have long felt that college readiness is a much more intricate construct, and never determined by just one score, or by just three. Directly involved in the college selection process, these educators have long held, for example, that a student is more likely to be college ready if they've taken rigorous classes across the curriculum, not just one AP class.

In addition, a number of colleges are convinced that a C in an advanced class suggests the student is unlikely to succeed in college, since average college grades are typically one full grade level below what a student earns in high school. Given that data point, is AASA really willing to say a student with a C in Algebra II is a success if they earn a D in their first year of College Algebra, or if their high school GPA of 2.8 turns into a 1.8 at university? This would rebuff years of institutional data that has been created and verified by thousands of colleges, data that includes the role of personal maturity and socialization as measures of college readiness.

In addition, this college readiness list will undoubtedly lead parents to reconsider what they thought they knew about choosing a college in ways that can be harmful to students. Since the list doesn't answer the question "Ready for which colleges?" parents will now safely assume that the college readiness list will prepare their child to succeed in any curriculum at any college, from community college to research universities to the Ivy League.

I for one am not looking forward to the first phone call from an ebullient parent who advises me that I was wrong about Johnny's college prospects, since the Superintendent's Association has decided that Johnny's 2.9 GPA and C in Algebra II really does make him ready for Yale, no matter what I think. I don't mind having the conversation; I do have concerns what that conversation will do to Johnny.

Helping students with the very personal experience of discovering colleges that are best suited to advance their goals, talents, and dreams has never been an easy thing to do, if it's done well. A vast majority of school counselors and college admission counselors will readily admit that the many Best Colleges lists haven't helped that cause, since those rankings are based on factors that either have little to do with a student's college experience, or don't take the unique needs of each student into account when creating the list. Counselors and college admissions officers do that; lists don't.

Well-meaning as it may be, this checklist of college ready attributes does little to help the cause of college readiness. It may be news to some superintendents and principals that there's more to being ready for college than a good score on the ACT, but that's only because those school leaders have never had a serious conversation with their counselors about the purpose of college, and the process of creating a successful college fit between student and school.

The creation of this college readiness list may create that opportunity, as administrators may use its rollout as an occasion to advise counselors how to "do" college counseling. School counselors are going to want to be ready for that conversation with armloads of data and the insights of college admission officers. If they are, that conversation could lead to new levels of support for college counseling programs --one of the few outcomes of the creation of these checklists that could be considered a plus.