College Readiness

Quick Definition

College readiness refers to the level of preparation students receive, which enables them to successfully complete entry-level postsecondary courses without remediation. Research has identified three elements that contribute to college readiness:1

  • Content knowledge in core subjects and strong writing skills.
  • Cognitive strategies including analysis, interpretation, problem-solving, precision and accuracy.
  • Behavioral attributes including study skills, time management, persistence and awareness of one’s own performance.

Going to college and earning a certificate or degree has long been a lever for improving individuals’ job opportunities and income. Those with a certificate or degree earn more and are less likely to experience unemployment, even in today’s difficult economic climate.  

Getting that certificate or degree depends on many factors including being ready for college. Yet far too many of Georgia’s students leave K-12 poorly prepared for postsecondary study. Some of them will never attempt college. Others will but, lacking needed knowledge and skills, they struggle and leave school without finishing their programs. Significantly increasing the number of students who leave high school ready for postsecondary study is vital to ensure the long-term well being of these young people and their families. It is also necessary if Georgia is to attract and develop the high-growth, high-paying industries that depend on an educated workforce.

1 David T. Conley (2008). Redefining College Readiness. Educational Policy Improvement Center. Retrieved August 27, 2012 from


Relevancy to Georgia

A primary indicator of college readiness is graduating from high school. It is an essential step on the path to college, yet it is one that many of Georgia’s students never take. They drop out, shutting the door to postsecondary study and its rewards before most can even vote (table 1). 

Table 1: High School Graduation Rates: 2010-11.1

The graduation rate is calculated based on the cohort of students who enter ninth grade and graduate within four years; the rate includes adjustments for transfer students.2

Being ready for postsecondary study requires more than graduating from high school however. It requires a thorough understanding of key concepts in core content areas and strong writing skills. Many students graduate from high school lacking both. One indication of this is results from End-of-Course Tests, which are given in core subjects and are more rigorous than the state’s high school graduation test.3 As Table 2 reveals, a significant portion of Georgia’s high school students fail these tests.4 

Table 2: End-of-Course Tests 2011-12


Math has proven to be particularly challenging for many students, with a third or more of 2012 graduates failing algebra, Math I or Math II. The latter two tests have been controversial as they integrate concepts from algebra, geometry and statistics, and students have persistently struggled to master them. The Georgia Department of Education created separate tests in algebra and geometry as a result, which can now be substituted for Math I and II. 

A second indicator of mastery of content knowledge is results from the ACT exam. The ACT has established college readiness benchmarks. Students who meet the benchmarks have a 75 percent chance of earning a “C” or better in an entry-level postsecondary course and a 50 percent chance of earning a “B” or better. Figure 1 makes clear that by this measure far too few of Georgia’s high school graduates are fully prepared for college.5 

Figure 1: Percent of 2012 ACT-Tested Graduates Meeting College Readiness Benchmarks


Policymakers in Georgia have recently taken steps to bolster college readiness. The most visible is the adoption and implementation of the Common Core Curriculum Standards. The Georgia Department of Education has also developed a new accountability system. To support both of these, the Department has developed a new K-16 data system. It is also expanding opportunities for high school students to earn college credits, facilitating their transition to and success in postsecondary institutions. 

Common Core State Standards

In June 2010 the Georgia State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core was developed by a group of experts convened by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and with support from state education leaders. A guiding principle of their development was the commitment that the standards would be college and career ready. To date 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted and are implementing the Common Core, which covers two subject areas: math and English language arts (ELA). The focus is limited to these subjects because they are the building blocks for learning in other areas, including science, social studies and fine arts. The Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) will continue to guide instruction in these other areas.

The Common Core standards are accompanied by new assessments, which are being developed by a consortium of 24 states including Georgia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The PARCC assessments will include short answer, open-response and performance-based questions in addition to multiple choice ones. These should offer a more accurate picture of whether students are on track for graduating with college and career-ready knowledge and skills. 

College and Career Ready Performance Index 

The new Common Core assessments in math and ELA are part of much broader changes in Georgia’s K-12 accountability system. The Georgia Department of Education has developed a new accountability system, the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) that will be fully implemented in 2013. As its name indicates, the CCRPI is designed specifically to measure students’ progress toward being prepared for postsecondary study and entry into the workforce. The CCRPI is more comprehensive than the current system. Schools will be assessed on multiple indicators including student achievement scores, graduation rates, enrollment in selected courses (e.g. Pathways courses, physics, world languages), and their adoption of innovative practices. They will also be reviewed on their financial efficiency and climate, both of which influence teaching and learning. 

On most indicators, schools will be assessed in three ways: achievement, progress and achievement gap closure. In this way, schools will be reviewed for the level of academic success their students attain, the gains they make from one year to the next, and their ability to help high-need learners move forward. These more varied indicators and the multiple lenses through which they are viewed will better enable school and district leaders to identify problems and design responses to them quickly. 

Longitudinal Data System 

Undergirding the implementation of the Common Core standards and the CCRPI is Georgia’s new statewide longitudinal data system that links the Georgia Department of Education’s data system with those of University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia. The new system will allow educators to gauge individual students’ progression from pre-kindergarten through college. According to the Data Quality Campaign, this is one of the final steps needed for Georgia to have a fully implemented data system that goes beyond reporting on student achievement to actually improve it.6 Development of the new system is funded by an $8.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.7 The Data Quality Campaign has called state leaders to undertake action in two additional areas: ensuring that data is accessible to appropriate stakeholders and that policies are in place to ensure educators across K-16 can analyze and use data effectively.  

Early College Credit   

To facilitate students’ transition to postsecondary institutions, the Georgia Department of Education is expanding several initiatives: Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Early College, Dual Enrollment and Career Academies. All of these enable students to earn college credits while still in high school. 

Advanced Placement: The College Board has developed college-level curricula in 34 subject areas ranging from Calculus to Environmental Science to Art History, which high schools can adopt. Students take an exam upon completing the course; those who earn a high score (typically 3 or more on a scale of 5) can receive college credit. Some research has indicated that students who take AP courses and exams are more likely to persist in and graduate from postsecondary institutions than students who do not.8 

Georgia has undertaken efforts to expand the number of students taking AP exams. It has funded training for new AP teachers and is increasing the number of AP classes offered by the Georgia Virtual School. This will enable students whose schools do not offer AP classes to participate. In addition, since 2003, the State has covered the cost of one AP exam for every high school student. From 2003-2010, Georgia paid for all AP exams for economically disadvantaged students. Due to budget cuts, the State now provides funding for only one exam for these students. 

These efforts have paid off. Close to 40 percent of the class of 2011 took at least one AP exam, virtually double the percentage of students from the class of 2001 who did so.9 Almost 20 percent of 2011’s class earned a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam, above the national rate of about 18 percent. This pays off for students. Entering freshmen at the University of Georgia, for example, earned on average credit for 3 courses based on their scores on AP exams.10  

International Baccalaureate: The International Baccalaureate is a rigorous, multi-subject curriculum that is implemented school-wide. At the end of their course of study, students take written assessments in each subject area. Similar to the AP, students whose scores are high enough may earn college credits. There are currently 27 high schools in Georgia that offer the IB diploma curriculum, which is designed for secondary students.11 

Dual Enrollment: There are multiple dual enrollment programs in Georgia through which high school students can earn credit toward completing both high school and postsecondary programs. One is the College and Career Academies. These academies are created by individual school districts, institutions within the Technical College of Georgia System and local businesses, and provide high school students with the career-based classes that count toward completion of postsecondary programs. The Technical College System and the University System are creating a new Office of College and Career Transitions that will promote the expansion of the current network of 26 Academies.12 The Technical College System is also developing statewide articulation assessments, which will enable high school students to earn credit for advanced coursework in high school.  These credits will be “banked” until the student enrolls in an institution within the Technical College System. 

Two other programs provide critical financial support for dual enrollment programs. The first is the Accel program, which provides non-need based aid to high school students taking classes toward an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree. A second is the HOPE dual enrollment grants, which subsidize the cost of courses for certification programs at technical colleges for high school students. These HOPE grants do not count toward the limit on paid-hours for the HOPE scholarship.13 

These and other dual enrollment programs are promising. However, their current reach is limited. In the 2011-12 school year, there were 5,072 students participating in these programs, 1.1 percent of Georgia’s high school students.14

1 Georgia Department of Education. "2010-2011 Report Card, All Schools, Three-Year Comparison of Graduation Rates." Retrieved June 20, 2012, from

2 Georgia Department of Education (2012). "Georgia Releases New Four-year High School Graduation Rate." Retrieved June 20, 2012, from 45

3 Nancy Badertscher. “Students Fare Better on Most End-of-Course Tests, but Not Math II,” Atlanta Journal Constitution. July 3, 2012. Retrieved from

4 Georgia Department of Education. EOCT Statewide Scores: Spring 2012 State Summary. Retrieved on August 24, 2012 from

5 ACT (2012). The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2012: Georgia. Retrieved on August 24, 2012 from

6 Data Quality Campaign (2011). Georgia: 2011 DQC State Analysis. Retrieved August 27, 2012 from

7 Georgia Department of Education. "SLDS Grant Overview." Retrieved June 19, 2012, from

8 Kelly E. Godfrey, H. M.-E. (2010). "Key Indicators of College Success: Predicting College Enrollment, Persistence and Graduation." Retrieved June 24, 2012, from

9 Georgia Department of Education (2012). "Georgia Ranks 13th in the Nation on Advanced Placement Exams." Retrieved June 23, 2012, from

10 University of Georgia. "College Credit From Testing and Joint Enrollment." Retrieved June 24, 2012, from

11 International Baccalaureate Organization. "Find an IB World School." Retrieved June 20, 2012, from

12 University System of Georgia, T. C. S. o. G. (2011). "Complete College Georgia: Georgia's Higher Education Completion Plan 2012." Retrieved June 12, 2012, from   

13 Georgia Student Finance Commission (2011). "HOPE Grant Program, Regulations - 300. 2011-2012 Award Year." Retrieved June 13, 2012, from

14 Georgia Department of Education. "Quick Facts About Georgia Public Education." Retrieved June 9, 2012, from




National Perspective

Whether a student is ready for postsecondary study rests on his knowledge and skills in at least three areas: content knowledge, core academic skills, and academic behaviors.1 2 Students lacking knowledge and ability in these areas struggle to transition to and succeed in postsecondary institutions. 

Content knowledge refers to the students’ knowledge of specific subject areas: English language arts, mathematics, science, history and other academic disciplines.3 Students with deep content knowledge in these core subjects are more likely to be successful in postsecondary programs than students that do not.4 By some measures, most students graduating from high school today do not have the content knowledge needed to succeed in college. 

In 2012, 52 percent of the nation’s high school graduates took the ACT, which assesses college readiness in four areas: English, reading, math and science.5 Only 25 percent of test-takers received met college readiness benchmarks in all four areas. Figure 2 presents the percentage of students who met the benchmark in each subject area. 

Figure 2: Percent of ACT-Tested High School Graduates Meeting College Readiness Benchmarks by Subject, 2012

There were significant differences in college readiness between students of different backgrounds as Figure 3 indicates. Asian students are most likely to meet the benchmarks in all four subjects while black students are least likely. However in no group did more than 42 percent of tested students meet the benchmarks in all four subject areas. 

Figure 3: Percent of 2012 ACT-Tested High School Graduates Meeting College Readiness Benchmarks in All Subjects

Closely tied to content knowledge is academic knowledge. This refers to students’ critical thinking and expression skills: analysis, interpretation, problem formulation and solving, and reasoning, which cut across subject areas.6 Research has revealed that faculty from different types of postsecondary institutions across the country consistently indicate that students entering their classes do not possess these skills in full. 

The third essential element of college readiness is academic behavior. This refers to student behavior that supports—or distracts from—learning. It includes self-monitoring and self-control, study skills, work habits, time management and social problem-solving skills.7,8 Instruction and learning in college settings is markedly different from instruction and learning in high school. College students are expected to master much more material independently and at a faster pace than in high school. They are also expected to produce much more work of a high standard and to move beyond answering questions with rote responses by synthesizing information from multiple sources. For most students, all of this demands new ways of working and a willingness to seek help when it is needed.9 

There are efforts underway across the nation to improve college readiness. Two of the most prominent are the development and institution of the Common Core State Standards and requirements for gaining a waiver from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. 

Common Core State Standards 

Many have advocated for the development of rigorous national standards as a means for improving college readiness and postsecondary outcomes. In 2009 Achieve, the Center for Best Practices at the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers came together to create them. They convened teams of experts to craft the standards, which are college- and career-ready and benchmarked against the nations with the highest levels of student achievement. The Common Core provides standards in English language arts and math, the two subject areas that are required for success in most other subject areas. The standards specify what students should know and be able to do at each grade level and include some academic skills such as research and writing. They do not lay out a specific course of study to reach those standards. Decisions about that remain with educators at the school, district and state levels. 

Though voluntary national standards were controversial when proposed by the George H. W. Bush and Clinton Administrations, the close involvement of state political and education leaders, the business community and both right- and left-leaning advocacy organizations like the Fordham Foundation and EdTrust generated considerable support for the development of the Common Core. 

The federal government had no role in the development of the Common Core. However it did take steps to encourage states to adopt them when the U.S. Department of Education made “adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy” a criteria for the $4.7 Race to the Top grant program in 2010.10 Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted and will implement them in the 2012-13 school year. 

In addition, the U.S. Department of Education has supported the development of assessments aligned with the Common Core by providing $330 million in funding to two state consortia that are developing the assessments. Both consortiums—the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers—are developing systems that include interim and summative assessments. These assessments, which are to be conducted electronically, will have a varied format that requires students to demonstrate more of the critical thinking skills required for success in college and the workplace and rely less on rote memorization. 

Advocates believe the Common Core and the aligned assessments have considerable potential to improve college readiness. Going forward, however, there are questions about their implementation: Will teachers have the support, time and resources required to enhance their content and pedagogical skills? Do state education agencies have the capacity to support effective implementation of the Common Core? Will cash-strapped states be able to implement the assessments in 2014 given the technological infrastructure they require?  

No Child Left Behind Waivers 

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) required states to create new accountability systems and to set annual goals for improvement in student achievement in English language arts and math to reach a goal of 100 percent proficiency across all students in these subjects by 2014. While NCLB is lauded by some as focusing needed attention on student outcomes, many have come to see it as too rigid and narrowly focused. Congress, which authorized the law, was set to reauthorize it in 2007; which would have incorporated reforms to the law. 

To provide states with greater flexibility, the U.S. Department of Education has begun to issue waivers for states to meet NCLB targets. The waivers release states from annual student achievement goals contingent on criteria that include state implementation of “college- and career-ready expectations” for students. Adoption of the Common Core is regarded as satisfying this criterion though some states have won waivers without doing so.11

Also, states seeking a waiver are required to identify the 15 percent lowest performing schools that receive Title I funding for substantive, multi-year interventions. High schools that have a graduation rate of 60 percent or lower are required to be included among these schools targeted for intervention. In many states this requirement may mean high schools are the primary focus for intervention. In Georgia, for example, 78 schools were identified as priority schools, requiring the highest level of intervention.12 Of these, 60 were high schools, two served elementary through high school students, and a third served middle and high school students. 

The first waivers were granted in February 2012 and the Department has indicated that they will continue to be granted through the fall of 2012.

The Common Core and NCLB waivers are national efforts that address the content knowledge component of college readiness as well as, to some degree, the academic knowledge. Efforts to address the third element—academic behavior—tend to be programmatic and incorporated into initiatives that address all three elements. They also are usually directed to students at risk for poor academic outcomes. One example is summer bridge programs that colleges or other agencies may operate. While they vary in scope and effectiveness, many of these programs have been successful in helping disadvantaged students gain the skills and knowledge they need to be ready for and succeed in college.

1 Conley, D. T. (2008). "Rethinking College Readiness." New Directions for Higher Education Winter(No. 144).

2 Melissa Roderick, J. N., Vanessa Coca (2009). "College Readiness for All: The Challenge for Urban High Schools." The Future of Children 19(1): 185-210.

3 Ibid.

4 George D. Kuh, Jillian Kinzie, Jennifer A. Buckley, Brian K. Bridges, & John C. Hayek (2006). What Matters Most to Student Success: A Review of the Literature.” National Postsecondary Education Cooperative. Retrieved June 19, 2012 from

5 ACT (2012). "The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2012." Retrieved August 26, 2012, from

6 Conley, D. T. (2008). "Rethinking College Readiness." New Directions for Higher Education Winter (No. 144).

7 Ibid.

8 Melissa Roderick, J. N., Vanessa Coca (2009). "College Readiness for All: The Challenge for Urban High Schools." The Future of Children 19(1): 185-210.

9 Conley, D. T. (2008). "Rethinking College Readiness." New Directions for Higher Education Winter (No. 144).

10 U.S.  Department of Education (2009). "Race to the Top Executive Summary." Retrieved June 10, 2012, from

11 Riddle, W. (2012). "Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Secretary of Education's Waivers of Major ESEA Requirements." Retrieved June 25, 2012, from

12 Georgia Department of Education (2012). "Priority Schools." Retrieved June 28, 2012, from




Research Tells Us

According to a recent report, 24 percent of students entering bachelor’s degree programs in the University System of Georgia require remediation. In the system’s two-year colleges, 59 percent of entering students take remedial courses as do 26 percent of the students entering programs in the Technical College System of Georgia.1 These students lack the knowledge and skills needed for entry-level classes in postsecondary institutions and are at significantly higher risk of dropping out than their peers who do not require remediation. Simply put, they are not ready for college, and they struggle once there. So what would help them be better prepared? Researchers have sought to answer this question. 

There is growing evidence that the number and content of math courses that students take in high school have significant influence on their readiness for postsecondary study. One study found that 73 percent of high school students who went beyond Algebra II were ready for college-level math while only 29 percent of students who stopped at Algebra II were ready.2 The math courses students take in high school is also a factor in whether they complete a degree. Another study found that 80 percent of students who take calculus in high school earn a bachelor’s degree while only 8 percent of those who do not go beyond algebra do so.3 

Research has also revealed that the academic rigor of the courses one takes in high school also determines college readiness.4 In short, the more courses in core subjects a student takes, the better prepared he or she will be. A greater percentage of students who complete the core curriculum in high school meet the ACT’s benchmarks for college readiness than those who do not.5 

With research pointing toward taking more core courses as a lever for improving college readiness, many states increased the high school graduation requirements over the past decade. However, there is little evidence that this has ensured that more students are ready for college.6 For example, the average score in critical reading on the SAT fell slightly between 2000 and 2011, and it stayed the same in math.7 This points to challenges in curriculum and instruction. Requiring more classes will have little effect if they are not rigorous or if teachers are ill-equipped to teach a rigorous curriculum.

1 University System of Georgia & Technical College System of Georgia (2011). Complete College Georgia: Georgia’s Higher Education Completion Plan 2012. Retrieved June 12, 2012 from

2 Laura Berry (2003). “Bridging the Gap: A Community College and Area High Schools Collaborate to Improve Student Success in College,” Community College Journal of Research & Practice 27(5)

3 Andrea Venezia, Michael W. Kirst, and Anthony L. Antonio (2003). Betraying the College Dream: How Disconnected K-12 and Postsecondary Education Systems Undermine Student Aspirations. Stanford University. Retrieved August 30, 2012 from

4 Clifford Adelman (2006). The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College. U.S. Department of Education,

5 ACT. The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2012. Retrieved August 27, 2012 from

6 David T. Conley (2008). Redefining College Readiness. Educational Policy Improvement Center. Retrieved August 27, 2012 from

7 College Board (2011). 2011 College-Bound Seniors: Total Group Profile Report. Retrieved on August 24, 2012 from

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