09/13/2012 10:18 am ET

Closing The Expectations Gap: States Make Strides To Implement College- And Career-Ready Policies

For its seventh annual “Closing the Expectations Gap” report, Achieve surveyed all 50 states and the District of Columbia about their college- and career-ready (CCR) policies, including aligning standards, graduation requirements, assessments and accountability systems with the expectations of postsecondary institutions and employers. For the first time, the survey also inquired about the implementation of said policies.

The survey determined that all 50 states and D.C. have adopted English language arts/literacy and mathematics standards that align with the knowledge and skills colleges and employers expect from high school graduates. Of these, 46 states and D.C. have adopted the Common Core State Standards, while the remaining four have developed their own CCR standards.

"With all states adopting college- and career-ready standards, they have now taken the first step towards reorienting the mission of their K-12 systems to reflect the demands of the 21st century," Achieve President Mike Cohen said in a statement. "As this report shows, various states are making some movement towards fulfilling the college- and career-ready agenda by putting new policies in place to support this new mission, but there is still much room for progress to be made."

According to the report, 23 states and the District have also established graduation requirements mandating that students complete a CCR curriculum that includes mathematics up to Algebra II level -- or its equivalent -- and four years of grade-level English in order to earn a high school diploma. The remaining 27 states, while they have adopted college- and career-readiness standards, have not yet revised their graduation requirements to ensure all students have met the CCR expectations reflected in the standards.

In addition, the survey found that 18 states administer assessments to high school students that postsecondary institutions consult when making decisions about students’ preparedness for college. Seven of those states have developed tests aligned to their state standards, and the remaining 11 administer a national college admissions exam.

"States and the larger education community must make sure educators have access to resources like quality instructional materials and effective professional development," Cohen said. "Success is going to take the combined effort of all education stakeholders - students, teachers, principals, K-12 leaders, school board members, superintendents, administrators, policymakers, postsecondary education leaders, the business community, and parents.

Forty-four states and D.C. are collaborating, either through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, to develop common assessments aligned with the CCSS that will be administered 2014-15.

When it comes to accountability, Achieve’s survey determined that only one state uses all four critical CCR indicators in its accountability system. These indicators include the percentages of high school graduates who earn a CCR diploma, obtain a readiness score on a high school assessment, earn college credit while in high school and require remediation upon entering college. Achieve identified four states that incorporate at least two CCR indicators in their accountability systems, and 32 that include at least one — seven more states than last year.

The report’s conclusion pushes for all states to ensure the successful implementation of college- and career-ready standards by raising their graduation requirements to incorporate said standards. In addition, more states should strengthen their accountability systems to align with CCR indicators, according to the report.

"The next few years will be challenging for the college- and career-ready agenda and we have to stay the course," Cohen said. "States have made tremendous progress towards college and career readiness for all by communicating its importance within, but also by standing together. Because of this commitment by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, college and career readiness is an expectation of our students no matter where they live."