May/June 2016

A new definition of college, career readiness

By David R. Schuler
David R. Schuler, Ph.D., is president of AASA, the School Superintendents Association (2015-2016) and superintendent of Township High School District 214, based in Arlington Heights.

America’s public schools have a profound responsibility to ensure that the nation’s students are college ready, career ready, and life ready. Standardized test scores – traditionally used as the primary readiness indicator – do not always provide an accurate or complete representation of students’ potential to be successful once they leave the schoolhouse doors. Today’s students, teachers, school leaders, and school board members are driven by ideas and innovation. Students cannot be reduced down to, or defined by, a single test score. That is unfair to students, teachers, administrators, and communities. Our students are more than a score.

That is why at the National Conference on Education in February, the School Superintendents Association (AASA), launched the “Redefining Ready” initiative. Redefining Ready is a new multi-metric, research-based approach to defining what it means to be college ready, career ready, and life ready. This movement is designed to change the national narrative regarding public education from a one-standardized-test-judges-all philosophy to a focus on what the research tells us regarding student readiness for the nation’s 50 million-plus public school students.

Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, many education advocates across the country have been focused on the testing and assessment movement. Those who oppose testing have been focused on the test refusal and opt-out movement. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it is time for those of us in the education field to take back the narrative regarding public education in this country. It is time we shift the conversation from testing and opt-out to readiness and preparing every child who walks through the public school doors for the next chapter in the cradle-to-careers pipeline.

It is time to acknowledge and celebrate that students learn in a variety of ways. They should be able to demonstrate readiness in a variety of ways. There is no better time than now to support a research-based, multi-metric redefinition of what it means to be college and career ready that more authentically and accurately reflects the readiness of students.

In my district, Township High School District 214 based in Arlington Heights, only 47 percent of the Class of 2015 met all four college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT. But 90 percent of our students attend college after graduation, and historical research shows that almost 70 percent of our graduates either earn a degree or are still in higher education within six years of graduation. That 47 percent number is simply not an accurate representation of reality. That number takes 16-17 years of informal and formal education at home and at school and trivializes it down to one test. That is simply not fair, appropriate, or reflective of how prepared and ready students are for the next step in their journey.

Ready for life beyond high school

Preparing students for success beyond graduation is among the most important tasks facing America’s educators. They have responded with innovative determination, creating a relevant 21st century education that includes increased access to Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses and early college credits that better position students for success; opportunities to complete industry credentials and college-level and career internships while still in high school; and rich exposure to co-curricular activities and community service projects that build skills for life.

While standardized test scores are widely accepted as one key readiness indicator in schools, they fail to show the whole picture — often inappropriately suggesting only a portion of students are college ready when in fact many more graduates successfully pursue two-year and four-year degrees (see chart, this page).

Research from world-class organizations indicates numerous factors that can significantly and more authentically demonstrate college, career, and life readiness, including a 2.8 or higher Grade Point Average (GPA), enrollment in AP and IB classes and success on AP and IB exams, early college credits, completion of industry credentials, attendance records, participation in activities and community service.

Data from the National Center for Postsecondary Research, the Diploma Project, the Center for Public Education, the National Center for Education Statistics, and others suggest the power of these varying metrics in assessing readiness. Specifically, a 2013 report published by the American Institutes for Research highlighted multiple indicators for success, including participation in dual-enrollment coursework, a score of 3 or higher on AP exams, and
FAFSA completion.

Another example, from a study out of Brown University, found success in Algebra II in high school is linked to both college enrollment and bachelor’s degree attainment. The courses students take in high school are more predictive of college success than family income and race.

Of the nation’s high schools, 82 percent report that students are enrolled in dual credit courses, according to a 2013 report by the National Center for Educational Statistics. If students are successfully completing college-level courses while in high school, shouldn’t they be considered ready for college?

In addition to college readiness, educators cannot underestimate the importance of identifying students who are ready to enter the workforce after leaving high school, particularly given the abundance of idea-driven and high-profile middle-skill jobs that do not require a full college degree.

Students need hands-on workplace learning experiences such as internships that enable them to explore their career interests while still in high school. The National Career Clusters ® Framework is comprised of 16 “career clusters” and related “career pathways” to help students explore different career options. Identifying a career pathway is critical because it provides exposure to coursework directly related to a future career and often leads to an industry credential that allows students to be immediately employable upon graduation.

Data shows school attendance, something at the very core of education, is central to success. In a report by Attendance Works, absenteeism influences not just chances for graduating but also for completing college.

Additionally, civically engaged students make greater scholastic progress during high school, with data showing that community service to fulfill class requirements enhances the average odds of college graduation by 22 percentage points.

Finally, co-curricular activities promote student achievement, engagement, and attitudes that lead to college aspirations and ultimately success, according to a study by the National Center for Educational Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education. The study indicated students involved in activities were more likely to aspire to higher education, and two-thirds were expected to complete a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Please join us on this journey. Since this initiative was launched in mid-February, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the Consortium of School Networking ( CoSN) already have endorsed this initiative and many other state and national educational associations are considering endorsements as well. We need parents, teachers, school leaders, school boards, communities, advocacy organizations, and state and national leaders to partner with us and support this research-based initiative that authentically, appropriately, and accurately captures the numbers of students who are college and career ready.

Looking ahead

There are several ways interested leaders in education can help this movement going forward:

Change the school district dialogue away from tests and opting-out to readiness and preparing students for their next step in the cradle-to-careers pipeline.

Consider passing a board resolution in support of Redefining Ready. A sample Board Resolution can be found at, along with a number of additional resources.

Add individual support of Redefining Ready to the website, so we can capture the exciting momentum surrounding this initiative that is occurring all across this great nation and the amazing State of Illinois.

Email any research or stories that support Redefining Ready and we will add them to the website. The email address is

Use the hashtags # RedefiningReady or #[district]Ready (e.g. #214Ready) on Twitter to share ideas and join the national conversation.

Together, we can take back the narrative regarding public education and ensure that students are empowered to demonstrate readiness in a way that fits with their learning style, is supported by research from world-class research institutions, and is an accurate reflection of our students’ readiness for life after high school.