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Policymakers in many states are debating what it means to be college- and career-ready — and whether expectations for students should change to match that definition. But even as policymakers are debating, recent graduates aren’t: Expecting more from them, they say, would not only have benefitted them more, it would also have made them work harder.

High expectationsThat’s the big takeaway from a recent survey that finds just 1 in 4 high school graduates feels prepared for college and the workforce. Encouragingly, those who said their schools held high academic expectations for them and significantly challenged them now feel better prepared for college or their first job. This echoes what we’ve heard before in our own work with recent high school graduates.

But unfortunately, only about a third of graduates said that their schools did a very good job encouraging them to take the most advanced courses and high-level math, or communicating with them about expectations for postsecondary success and whether they were on track.

Distressingly, low-income students were consistently less likely than those from higher income families to say their schools did a very good job of taking the steps that would have helped them feel prepared for college and work. If we’re serious about making sure all kids are ready, there needs to be a greater focus on low-income students, who now make up the majority of the public school population.

What students not only need but want is clear: more opportunities for challenging courses; more preparation in writing, math, and science; more guidance on what courses to take; more communication about the knowledge and skills they need; more information on whether they’re on track to succeed in college and the workplace. Let’s make sure we hear them — and listen.