High school graduation should be a ticket to college, career, and other life options. That’s not happening now. Too often, there is a gap between high school graduation requirements and the skills and experiences students need to enter college, start a career, or be successful in life. For example, a gap between graduation requirements and college admission requirements results in too many first-year college students taking remedial math and English courses and missing the opportunity to find their pathway to a successful career.
How does this gap in readiness happen?
Let’s compare the experience of two high school students, Ashley and Emma:
Ashley is a high school senior. She has been taking the courses recommended to her by teachers, counselors, and parents. Now it's time for her to decide what to do after she graduates. She wants to pursue a career in health care, but is unsure yet if she'll enter a 2- or 4-year postsecondary program.
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Emma is a high school senior whose plan is to attend a local college when she graduates and pursue a Bachelor's degree in Engineering. Her school's advisor has been helping Emma map out the courses she needs to take next year before college, including AP English, Biology, and Calculus courses. Emma also has taken her state's standardized tests.
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In too many states, the graduation option that students automatically start in – the default option – puts the burden on individual students and families to choose a pathway that will give them the academic preparation needed. Emma is fortunate to have an advisor to help get her the right information at the right time to take the courses she needs to be ready for college. Ashley also does everything right – or so she thinks. While she believed her diploma would be enough, she needed to add on to the standard high school requirements to meet her postsecondary goals. Find out more about which states expect students to complete a college- and career-ready graduation pathway to earn the default high school diploma.
When applying to public universities and community colleges in her state, Ashley realizes that the admissions requirements at 4-year universities exceed the high school courses she can take at her school during her senior year.
Emma applies to some of the best universities in her state and is accepted at her personal top choice. She also receives college credit for the AP exams she took and can start with more advanced courses than some of her peers.
In more than half of states, students have to “opt in” to taking a set of math and science courses that meet the requirements for entering the large, public four-year postsecondary institutions that serve most graduates from their high schools. This means that the expectations for many students in states are set lower than what’s needed for admission into four-year schools. Students like Ashley who don’t know that they need to take a year of additional math and science coursework to meet the minimum admissions requirements for institutions in their state are left scrambling to make up coursework that could be taken during high school. Find out more about what students are required to learn to graduate from high school and how these differ from what is needed for admission to higher education institutions in their state.
Ashley enrolls in a community college but needs to take remedial coursework before she can start earning credits toward her degree. At her own expense, Ashley enrolls in classes over the summer.
Emma is excited to be starting college after spending the summer as a camp counselor. While the prerequisite courses she is taking for her engineering degree are challenging, she feels her high school experience adequately prepared her for college-level academics.
States, districts, and schools cannot make good policy and practice decisions—and ultimately cannot improve student performance—if they do not have basic information about how students are performing along the way. Connecting the dots between the stories different student outcome measures tell is key to informing policy and practice decisions along the way to ensure all students graduate ready. States, districts, and schools need to know whether students like Ashley and Emma graduate from high school demonstrating readiness for their chosen college and career-ready pathways. And if they’re not ready, students need programs and supports to get the help they need to graduate ready. Find out more about how students are doing in each state with the College- and Career-Ready Student Outcomes Data Explorer.