Editorial: It's good to revisit what makes a teen college ready

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 4/15/2016 1:26 PM
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  • District 214 Superintendent David R. Schuler presents "Redefining Ready!" to the Illinois State Board of Education Wednesday morning.

    District 214 Superintendent David R. Schuler presents "Redefining Ready!" to the Illinois State Board of Education Wednesday morning. Courtesy of District 214

What makes a teenager ready for college?

David Schuler, president of the American Association of School Administrators -- and superintendent of Northwest Suburban High School District 214, based in Arlington Heights -- thinks kids and school districts are getting shortchanged by the conventional answer to that question.

Schuler is on a mission to get all of us to think differently about what makes a teen "college ready." And for that matter, career ready and "life ready," too. He pitched the program to the Illinois State Board of Education this week.

Schuler and the AASA believe the overwhelming reliance on test scores, primarily the ACT, to determine the college readiness of high school students, misses what makes students truly prepared.

According to their project, called Redefining Ready, other factors should also come into play -- Advanced Placement classes and exams, dual credit college classes in English and math, International Baccalaureate Exam results, and whether a student has taken Algebra II, among them.

The AASA's college-ready indicators are informed by a lot of studies -- including two that find Algebra II to be a "benchmark" for students who want high-paying professional jobs after college -- but at this stage, whether the AASA has hit upon the perfect formula isn't really the point.

The point centers on who would benefit from this change. That seems to be the kids who are in the "upper middle" of the academic pack. The more those students are told they are college material -- including community colleges -- the more they may rethink their futures and choose higher education after high school -- and begin getting involved early in a variety of experiences that will help get them ready.

In District 214, 80-90 percent of graduates move on to higher education in some form, despite fewer than 50 percent of them being deemed college ready by ACT benchmarks. By tracking their progress, 214 finds the majority of its students who become college freshmen re-enroll for a second year, indicating -- to Schuler, at least -- they were ready for college, after all.

Using the Redefining Ready standards on the District 214 Class of 2015, the number of college-ready students jumps from 46.7 percent to 71.7 percent. A skeptic might be excused for thinking the benefit of widening the standards in this way is to help high schools feel better about themselves. If that were their reason, it would be a poor one, of course, but this discussion is more important than that.

The ultimate test of Redefining Ready will be whether colleges and universities agree to use the new standards alongside the more conventional ACT scores. Today, however, the new benchmarks can give students and parents an early heads up on what they want to do after high school. And isn't that the whole point?

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