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Report Finds that Most HS Seniors Aren’t Ready for College or Career

Report Finds that Most HS Seniors Aren’t Ready for College or Career

The results of the Nation’s Report Card are in, and it looks like the majority of high school seniors aren’t college or career ready, according to

The Nation’s Report Card is based on a standardized test in math and reading—the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—given to high school seniors. This year, the average score in both subjects was just one point lower in 2015 compared with the last time the test was given, in 2013.

The NAEP is considered important because it’s a research project conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, not a state accountability test. Unlike state tests, which have been shifting year by year with Common Core, NAEP scores are comparable across decades. There is also the absence of consequences for schools or teachers, so students are not typically prepped or drilled to take the test, which can make it a more useful measurement of student achievement than some state tests.

"In our era of incredibly volatile state and local testing practices, it is our North Star," says Andrew Ho, a measurement expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who sits on NAEP's bipartisan governing board.

A large sample of high school seniors nationwide, in both public and private schools, took the tests last year — 18,700 students in reading and 13,200 in mathematics. This allows direct comparisons across states and cities. And while most standardized state tests have a single passing score, NAEP separates its results into four categories: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced.

With that in mind, Ho and his colleagues found that just under 40 percent of students score at college and career ready levels on NAEP. The test includes a combination of factors that contribute to students’ readiness for college, including content knowledge, cognitive strategies, learning skills and transitioning skills.These scores can then strongly predict if students will be able to succeed doing college-level academics, or with on-the-job training in a position requiring only a high school diploma.

But since more than 40 percent of kids graduated from high school last year (the nationwide graduation rate last year was 82 percent), does that mean schools are handing diplomas to students not ready for the “real world”?

"I think the charitable view is that graduation is not just reading and math," says Ho, meaning that high school diplomas also include things like "social studies, science, the arts, PE and showing up." The end result: the diploma captures achievements over time, rather than the ability to do well on a short, mostly multiple-choice test taken on a single day.

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