In an online article posted July 8th, 2013, the Grand Rapids Press (my local paper) reported that nearly 47% of high school graduates in the state of Michigan are taking remedial courses at the college level to get their abilities up to par with their universities’ expectations. In plain English, that means that nearly half of the students in my state are graduating from high school without the fundamental skills (typically in math and reading/writing) that post-secondary institutions are expecting them to have. When I read that statistic, I was floored, more than a little incredulous, and mostly just frustrated. Why is it that our students aren’t ready for the work that they’ll do after high school? Thankfully, this week at NTAC 2013, I’ve gained some valuable insight into how our schools can make sure that they are successful once they get there.
As our profession undertakes the task of redefining college readiness, I think the paradigmatic shift will come from broadening our focus from college “eligibility” to a more inclusive definition. One of the most interesting ideas coming out of this week’s College Readiness Assessment (CRA) sessions is the idea that all of our students should be aware, eligible, and prepared for their postsecondary plans– be it the working world or college. This expanded definition of readiness is important, because as the Michigan example illustrates, college readiness is about a lot more than simply eligibility.As educators, part of our job is certainly to ensure that our students are eligible for their postsecondary plans, but more importantly, we need to help them make informed decisions about where they want to be and what skills they’ll need once they get there.
To that end, our goal should be threefold. First, we need our students to be aware of the opportunities that they have and to understand how to achieve their goals. This means exposing them to a variety of career options and clarifying the pathways that lead to those ends. For some of our students, this might mean a 4-year degree program. For others, it might mean specific vocational training. The particular pathway isn’t important; what is important is that our students are aware of how to get to where they want to be after graduation. Second, we need to rethink our definition of eligibility. The fundamental shift here will come when we realize that not all of our students are headed to a 4-year university. Eligibility is highly specific to our students’ goals, and therefore we need an intimate knowledge of what our kids want to achieve so that we can give them the opportunity to succeed. Third, we need to prepare our students for their post-secondary work with the skills necessary to succeed in their chosen field.
As the conversation on college readiness takes shape, NTN teachers will have the opportunity to define best practices for our peers around the country. This is a powerful opportunity, and one that I am excited to be a part of along with CRA Cohort 1.