California’s system of measuring school performance should not give secondary status to college readiness. But the state’s current approach obscures the glaring mismatch between K-12 policy and college expectations. The state needs to bridge that gap, and part of that task includes providing stronger incentives for schools to focus on college preparation.
The reality is that for all the talk about encouraging college attendance, the state’s accountability system stresses other goals. The emphasis is on improving the performance of low-achieving students — the 43 percent of pupils who scored less than proficient in English-language arts in 2012 and the 49 percent who did the same in math. But the system concentrates on that vital objective at the expense of another key issue: readiness for college.
Consider, for example, the fact that more than 60 percent of the freshmen entering the California State University system require remedial courses in English, math or both — a trend which adds to both student and taxpayer costs for higher education. Yet these are students who took all the required college preparatory courses and graduated high school with at least a B average. So why do apparently capable high school graduates struggle with college work?
As it turns out, a score of proficient on the state standards test is no indicator of college readiness, as Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Young points out. Young’s careful analysis of 2012 test data offers the disturbing conclusion that far fewer high school students are prepared for college than the state’s testing regime might suggest.
The state is now in the middle of shifting to new academic standards and creating new tests to match the standards. And state education officials are in the process of revamping the Academic Performance Index, as well. The state should use that opportunity to refocus accountability measures to include stronger incentives for college preparation, besides aiding low-achievers.
But that step is only the first phase; the state also needs to better align the coursework and achievement expectations for high schools and colleges.
California does not need a false sense of complacency about college readiness. The state should advance policy that provides a coherent educational approach from kindergarten through college, not a disjointed system with uncoordinated objectives.