09/20/2011 12:04 pm ET | Updated Nov 20, 2011

Are High Schoolers Prepared for College? New Data Says Only 43% of Class of 2011 is Ready

There are many valid questions to be asked about the future of education in the United States, but there's one simple proposition with which I think most Americans would agree: college and career readiness are essential to America's future. We must ensure that by the time our students graduate high school, they are prepared to succeed and to compete -- to be the best in the world.

The most reliable road to success leads through college, and for over 100 years the College Board has provided students with a map for their journey.

As part of our ongoing effort to ensure that 55 percent of Americans have a postsecondary credential by 2025, this year we developed the first ever national SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark. It is particularly fitting that we established the benchmark in a year when the SAT reached a record 1.65 million students -- many of whom are traditionally underserved -- and only 43 percent of them met the benchmark.

After analyzing the results of a diverse group of students from more than 100 institutions all over the country, we set the national SAT benchmark at a composite score of 1550. That means, if a student's critical reading, math and writing scores add up to at least 1550, they have a 65 percent chance of earning a B-minus average their first year in college. Not to mention that students who meet the new SAT benchmark are more likely to enroll in, succeed at, and graduate from college.

Why is the benchmark such a strong indicator?

Primarily, it's because the SAT has consistently proven to be a valid predictor of first year GPA. Using overall first-year GPA as a college performance metric -- rather than a selection of courses most students don't take their first year -- makes this benchmark applicable to all students regardless of major or coursework. And by using a combined score of critical reading, math, and writing, the benchmark offers a fair and holistic measure that allows for some variation across subject areas.

Furthermore, a multiyear validity research program led by the independent, bipartisan National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) has found strong alignment between the SAT and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) - commonly known as the Nation's Report Card. The SAT is the only college admission test to which NAEP was statistically linked, and for which such close empirical connections have been demonstrated.

In terms of usage, the SAT benchmark is an excellent measure of the college readiness of a group of students. It can be a tool for developing policy and targeting assistance to large pools of students, such as in a school district or a state.

We want to be very clear that the SAT benchmark should not be used to evaluate an individual student's college readiness. It was developed to provide education leaders with a tool to evaluate and track the effectiveness of academic programs in preparing students for college. It is not meant to be used in admissions or other high stakes decision-making.

In the final analysis, ensuring that students are ready to attend and complete college provides them with the competitive advantage they need to succeed in the global economy. The College Board remains committed to working with students, parents, educators and policymakers to expand access to higher education and to push open the doors of higher learning for everyone.

The SAT is a program of the College Board.