Common Core Goes To College

Policy Paper
July 21, 2014

Each year, hundreds of thousands of American students graduate from high school and enter college without being adequately prepared to succeed there. This is partly the result of misaligned high school standards and higher education expectations. There are real, sobering consequences: millions of students have fallen short of earning a college degree. The widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and assessments presents a new opportunity to bridge the gap between high school and higher education, according to a new report released today by New America.

In Common Core Goes to College: Building Better Connections Between High School and Higher Education, New America’s Lindsey Tepe describes the current landscape of higher education policies and practices that prevent clear alignment between colleges and the Common Core. Her analysis of state and institution policies within higher education—including the admissions process, qualifying for financial aid, and retesting and course placement, developmental education and teacher preparation—reveals many detours for students navigating the path from high school to college.

The route is littered with multiple layers of student assessment, including high school assessments and exit exams but also college admissions exams such as the ACT and SAT and an assortment of course placement tests. Tepe’s report examines the history and use of these various assessments in higher education. She argues that states’ new college- and career-ready assessments should, at the very least, provide an additional avenue for students to meet minimum college eligibility requirements, qualify for state financial aid, and place into the assortment of first-year credit-bearing coursework offered by institutions.

“If passing a state’s college- and career-ready assessment does not indicate that a student meets the state’s minimum eligibility requirements for higher education, it will undermine the standards as a true proxy for college readiness,” Tepe said Tuesday. “Further, we should streamline our confusing financial aid process by aligning state financial aid qualifications with state high school assessments.”

Tepe argues that the Common Core standards should guide and shape instruction within higher education, notably in the areas of developmental education and teacher preparation. “If students are going to continue taking what amount to high school courses in college, these remedial courses should be informed by states’ college- and career-ready standards.” Further, Tepe noted, “teachers will be much better prepared to implement the Common Core standards if colleges and universities actually prepare them to do so.”

“The path from high school to college is fraught with detours and pitfalls. States that have made a commitment to preparing all students for college success will be unable to uphold that ideal without addressing the complicated, piecemeal higher ed policies and practices which have been put into place over the past century.”

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