Reshaping the College Transition

In today’s world, earning a high school diploma doesn’t guarantee college readiness. To explore what states are doing to address this critical problem, the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia’s Teachers College has developed the Reshaping the College Transition project. Two of CCRC’s four planned reports were published in 2013. The first report, Reshaping the College Transition: States That Offer Early College Readiness Assessments and Transition Curricula (released in May 2013), provides a scan of states nationwide that are implementing early college readiness assessments, transition curricula, or both as a way to strengthen the passage from high school to college. The second, Reshaping the College Transition: Early College Readiness Assessments and Transition Curricula in Four States (released in November 2013), details the use of assessment and transition curricula interventions, their features, and the policies and governance structures that affect their implementation and impact on the students they serve. The second report takes a special look at California, New York, Tennessee, and West Virginia—four states that are championing transition initiatives and provide guidance and oversight at both local and state levels.

According to CCRC researchers, the root of the secondary to postsecondary/career transition problem is threefold:

  • Academic under preparedness for college and a lack of knowledge about gaps in student learning during high school
  • Misalignment of expectations between the high school and college levels
  • Lack of students’ “college knowledge” such as time management, note-taking, and help-seeking skills

High schools and colleges are increasingly working in collaboration to re-conceptualize 12th grade as the space to identify student skills gaps, align secondary and postsecondary curricula, and eliminate the need for college remediation. Early college readiness assessments and transition curricula are two major ways identified by CCRC that states are tackling this problem.

Early college readiness assessments measure students’ readiness to enter college without the need for remediation and to successfully perform entry-level, credit bearing postsecondary work. These assessments are administered no later than 11th grade and test students’ readiness in math, reading, and/or writing. Many states already use established college readiness tests such as ACT, SAT, or existing college placement tests like ACCUPLACER or COMPASS; others, such as California, use their own state-developed accountability assessments. The new Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments will provide a new college- and career-ready assessment option for these and other states.

Transition curricula are courses, learning modules, or online tutorials developed jointly by high school and college faculty and offered no later than 12th grade to students at risk of being placed into remedial math or English classes in college.  Across the states, transition curricula have mainly been developed by local high schools and districts, sometimes in partnership with local colleges, though primarily initiated and led by the former. The design and goals of each program vary widely, and the newness of the transition curricula approach means that the literature currently available is descriptive and speaks little to the measurable effectiveness of these programs.

Though research on these interventions is still in its infancy, studies suggest that early college readiness assessments and transition curricula reduce the need for college remediation. As more states implement these approaches, CCRC’s upcoming rigorous evaluation of the outcomes of students participating in transition curricula in two states will be essential for assessing the impact of these transition initiatives.

Anne Mishkind is a research associate with the College and Career Readiness and Success Center.

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