States Make Progress Closing High School “Expectations Gap” But More Needs To Be Done, Report Finds

States Make Progress Closing High School “Expectations Gap” But More Needs To Be Done, Report Finds

WASHINGTON

      Just one year after 45 of the nation’s governors joined leaders from education and business to make high school reform a national priority, many states are making progress closing the “expectations gap,” says a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Achieve Inc.

      One year ago, only two states — Arkansas and Texas — required students to take the courses considered to represent a rigorous college- and work-ready curriculum in order to graduate. According to Achieve’s report, “Closing the Expectations Gap 2006,” six more states raised requirements to that level over the past year including Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Twelve more states reportedly plan to do so in the next few years. Seven additional states raised requirements within the last year, though not to the college- and work-ready level.

      “I have not seen such a widespread response to concerns about America’s educational competitiveness since the release of “A Nation At Risk” in 1983,” says Michael Cohen, president of Achieve. “It is encouraging that so many states have acted with a sense of urgency, but every state must close the gap between the requirements for earning a high school diploma and the real world demands of college and the work place. The stakes for students and our country are higher than ever.”

      At last year’s National Education Summit on High Schools, co-sponsored by Achieve, participants were confronted with some sobering statistics — one-third of students drop out of high school; of those that graduate and go to college, one-third need remedial courses; and nearly half of high school graduates entering the work force find they are not prepared.

      But that is rapidly changing, according to Achieve’s report, the first in a series of annual reports tracking reform efforts in all 50 states. Achieve finds that 35 states are taking steps to align high school standards with college and workplace expectations. Five

states — California, Indiana, Nebraska, New York, and Wyoming — report having completed this work. Thirty others have or will soon have a similar process underway.

      In many states, this involves significant roles for the business and higher education communities, first in defining their expectations and then validating that if students meet the high school standards, they will be ready for college and good jobs. 

      Despite the progress, states still face considerable challenges in their reform efforts, including ensuring students receive the academic support necessary to meet higher standards and building capacity to effectively teach more challenging courses. In some states, raising high school diploma requirements has been difficult given strong traditions of local control of schools.

      While states have made the most progress in raising graduation requirements and aligning high school expectations with college and workplace demands, the report notes that fewer states have moved to develop complementary testing and accountability systems, in part because academic standards and course-taking requirements generally need to be in place before testing and accountability provisions can be successfully implemented.

      Only six states — California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Missouri and Texas — report that statewide tests given to students in high school are used for college admissions or placement purposes. This is one of the best proxies for judging whether high school tests measure college readiness skills. Eight states reported that they plan on using their high school tests for postsecondary purposes in the future. Meanwhile, few states currently have a system in place to hold high schools accountable for increasing the rate at which their incoming freshmen graduate ready for college and work.



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