Priorities for College and Career Readiness

A blue graduation cap in focus in the foreground while blue capped graduates are seated in the background
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While the goal of a K–12 education was once high-school graduation, the focus has now shifted to college and career readiness. Although this change has been painful, uneven, and revealing for many educators, there is good news: we are getting there. The better news is we know much more about how to achieve these new goals than ever before.

While there are many programs, initiatives, and actions an educator may consider to “implement” college and career readiness, there are three key priorities that offer immediate impact and can be easily accomplished with existing tools.

Know the Reading Level of Every Student

The increased complexity of nonfiction texts that students must read is the greatest shift in educational expectations. Because it’s critical that students therefore have a higher level of reading comprehension, it’s essential to measure and monitor students’ reading skills with precision and vigilance. By providing grade-appropriate texts at each student’s individual reading level, and then following up with direct instruction around grade-level complex text, educators can help students to build the close-reading skills needed to master more challenging materials.

For maximum accuracy, use Lexile® levels to measure both student ability and text complexity. Don’t trust publishers when they label materials as “below level” or “on level”—use Lexile levels to verify the complexity of every text.

Align with Today’s Digital Assessments

Ten percent of K-12 students nationwide underperformed on the new high-stakes assessments due to a lack of technology skills: they struggled with navigation, were unfamiliar with the technology-enhanced items, and reported challenges with online highlighting and editing tools.

In fact, one third of all students who took the online college and career readiness assessments in spring 2015 reported that the English language arts tests were more difficult than their class work, and 16 percent of students said they were unfamiliar with the types of tasks on the ELA assessments.

Now that we know what the new assessments look like, we need to align our instruction accordingly. Students need to become familiar with digital content that includes editing and highlighting tools. They also need practice with activities that resemble the types of tasks and technology-enhanced items they will see on the new assessments.

Focus on Deeper Comprehension

Students are expected to read more informational text than ever before, which means they need to develop comprehension strategies that allow for a deeper understanding of content. Fortunately, many activities that drive language acquisition and literacy growth can also be used to build advanced comprehension skills.

Encourage students to generate questions, summarize, and form opinions during class discussion, collaboration, and debate activities. Require students to focus on substantive issues in the text, use appropriate academic terms, and refer to relevant and sufficient evidence during augmentation. This type of targeted and accountable talk increases students’ vocabulary, deepens their critical-thinking skills, and improves comprehension.

For Immediate—and Lasting—Impact

To ensure successful college and career readiness outcomes, use programs that measure the reading levels of your students and provide appropriately complex text. Study the released items for the new assessments and implement curricular tools that are aligned to the types of tasks on the tests. Find resources that are designed for, and supportive of, focused, collaborative discussion in the classroom. By prioritizing these kinds of instructional strategies, you can help all of your students get ahead on the path to college and career success.

Kevin Baird is the Chairman of the Center for College and Career Readiness and serves on the Achieve3000 Educational Leadership Council.