On Course for Success: A close look at selected high school courses that prepare all students for college

Publication date: Feb 23, 2005

(Iowa City, IA) — High schools that provide all students with high-level courses, qualified teachers, flexible teaching styles, and extra tutorial support are more successful in preparing their students for college and work, according to a new study by ACT and The Education Trust. The study defines, for the first time, the specific rigorous academic skills that need to be taught in English, math, and science courses for high school graduates to be ready for college and work.

“”Our previous research has shown how important it is for students to take not only the right number but also the right kind of courses in high school,”” said Cynthia B. Schmeiser, ACT’s senior vice president for research and development. “”With this study, we take the next step forward by specifying what these courses need to look like to successfully prepare students for college-level work.””

The improvement and reform of America’’s high schools is a top priority for both the Bush administration and the National Governors Association (NGA).

“”The national conversation about high school reform has come not a moment too soon,”” said Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust. ““In this economy, the skills and knowledge needed for college are the very same as those that young people need to find and hold a decent job. Yet, too many high school courses leave seniors unprepared for the world they will face after graduation. This report provides a blueprint for educators across the nation to improve the quality of education for all students.””

The new study, titled On Course for Success, looked at 9 high schools across the U.S. that are already meeting high standards and overcoming the odds— – schools that have a diverse student population (40 percent or more minority and/or 50 percent or more low-income) and are producing a higher than average proportion of graduates who are ready for college based on ACT’’s College Readiness Benchmarks. The high schools were located in eight states: Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin.  The tenth school, located in Ohio, was chosen to represent high schools that score at the top of ACT Assessment results, regardless of population.

Researchers and content experts from ACT and The Education Trust studied courses taken by the students at these schools who met or surpassed the College Readiness Benchmarks on the ACT exam. They observed classes, met with and surveyed teachers, reviewed instructional materials and course syllabi, and studied course procedures.

The findings point to four major characteristics shared by these high performing high schools:

  1. High-level, college-oriented content in core courses - —All schools offered coherent sequences of courses focused on college-readiness content at a level beyond most state and district standards.
  2. Qualified and experienced teachers— – All of the teachers were certified in their subject area, and nearly all had a Master’’s degree or higher with at least one degree in their subject area.
  3. Teaching that is flexible and responsive to students— – Most teachers frequently asked and answered questions and checked for student understanding.  In classroom discussions and lectures, they helped students make meaningful connections to the content by using examples that had meaning to students, making reference to prior learning, current events and popular culture.
  4. Out of classroom support for students— – Students were provided with extra support outside the classroom through tutors, teachers, and other helpers, including peers and adults from the community. Teachers offered help outside of class and reminded students that they were available for assistance.

The report also provides complete, detailed descriptions of courses that prepare students for college English, math, and science coursework. Courses detailed in the report include English for grades 10 and 11; geometry, Algebra II, and precalculus; and biology, chemistry, and physics.

“”All students can benefit from taking high-quality core courses, but far too many – —particularly children of color and those from low-income families – are fed watered-down coursework,”” said Haycock. “”We need to make high-quality college-prep courses part of every high school’s curriculum, so that all students— – not just a select few—are prepared for the future.””

ACT test results have consistently shown that many students who have taken core courses are still not prepared for college or the workforce. This occurs across all types of schools and all economic, ethnic and racial groups of students. The current findings indicate that schools can be successful regardless of the makeup of the student population. The success of these schools is based largely on providing high-quality course content.

The authors of the report recommend that each high school reevaluate the content of current college-preparatory classes to ensure that the focus is on the high-level skills needed for college and work readiness. Both organizations have released prior reports (ACT – Crisis at the Core; The Education Trust –- A New Core Curriculum for All) suggesting that all students benefit from a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum, as the skills needed for success in the workplace are the same as those needed for success in the first year of college.

“”All students have the right to take rigorous college preparatory courses; they should be offered in every high school in the country,”” said Schmeiser. ““These high-poverty, high-minority schools have given us a blueprint to follow. It’s working for their students and it can work in every high school.””

The ACT/Education Trust study report, On Course for Success, is available in PDF format here:

http://edtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/success_report.pdf

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ACT is a not-for-profit organization that serves millions of people in schools, colleges, professional associations, businesses, and government agencies with programs and services that have one guiding purpose — to help people achieve education and career goals by providing information for life’s transitions. For more information about ACT, visit www.act.org.

The Education Trust is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to help schools and colleges work for all of the students they serve. The Trust works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, kindergarten through college. The staff spend most of their time providing assistance to local, state, and national leaders in developing both policies and improvement strategies to raise achievement and close gaps between groups. For more information about The Education Trust, visit www.edtrust.org.

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