What Is College and Career Readiness?

Despite a lack of consensus on what it means to be college and career ready, some say a new definition is needed.

by / September 2, 2016

Are students ready for whatever they decide to do after high school? That is the question that states and education organizations are trying to answer by defining college and career readiness.

Some more traditional definitions say that test scores should determine whether students are ready for college and a career. But others contend that no one factor at a single point in time should be used to make that determination. 

"There really hasn't been, I would suggest, significant consensus on what it means to be college and career ready," said David Schuler, Township High School District 214 superintendent and president of AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

Differing Definitions

A 2014 report from American Institutes for Research reflects Shuler's statement, as it found a variety of definitions in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Most use the same definition for both college and careers, and 21 of them include specific knowledge, skills and dispositions that will help students succeed, including: academic knowledge, critical thinking, social and emotional learning, grit/resilience/perseverence and citizenship, knowledge of technology, lifelong learning, and responsibility to the environment and family.

The education reform organization Achieve Inc., which helped create the Common Core State Standards, focuses on sheer academics in its definition. High school graduates should have solid enough math and English skills to succeed in job training or take college-level courses without remediation. The nonprofit Educational Policy Improvement Center that focuses on college and career readiness says the same, but also points out that not every student would need to be proficient at the same level in every area as someone else, and that no single test score should determine whether they're ready.

Instead, the research center suggests that students should be assessed on whether they succeed in their postsecondary education studies and post-high school training. This success can be measured by the key cognitive strategies; content knowledge; learning skills and techniques; and transition knowledge and skills they demonstrate.

Redefining College and Career Readiness

But college and career readiness should really have a new definition, Schuler says. He and Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, started the Redefining Ready initiative, and have built up support from superintendents, principals and other national organizations who all say that the definition should include research-based indicators of college, career and life readiness — not a single test score. 

Some of their career ready indicators include identifying a career interest and doing some of the following: 25 hours of community service, 90 percent attendance, workplace learning experience, industry credential, dual-credit career pathway course, organizing co-curricular activities. Students who want to join the military would need to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery for all branches.

As for college-ready indicators, they include a choice of either academic or standardized test benchmarks. On the academic side, that could include a GPA of 2.8 out of 4.0, along with good grades in college classes while they're in high school. On the test side, it could mean meeting specific score levels on the SAT or ACT exams.

The life-ready indicators are still being researched.

"At the very core, it's about just changing our perspective toward readiness," Schuler said. "Graduation cannot be an endpoint." 

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.