"Too few students graduate from high school with habits that prepare them for college," says Matt Gaertner, a learning PhD at Pearson who specializes in college access, college admissions, and college success." Graduating from high school is an important goal, but it shouldn't be the ultimate goal."
Matt says traditional reliance on academic achievement and standardized test scores to indicate college readiness in the final years of high school is part of the challenge. "These tests are delivered so late in high school," he says. "There's often no time to correct learning gaps and get students back on track."
Matt and his colleagues are developing ways to measure readiness in ways that are both more precise and available to parents and teachers long before a student's junior or senior year in high school.
The alternative approach to assessing college readiness, Matt says, involves combining academic achievement with five more categories of learning:
- Motivation, or grit. Is the student achieving beyond their ability? Does the student believe she has control over her success?
- Behavior. This category encompasses absences, discipline referrals, or suspensions.
- Social engagement. Is the student involved in activities after school?
- Family circumstances. Are family members involved in the learning process? This also takes in to account parent education levels and income.
- School characteristics. This category encompasses community-related factors like crime rates and poverty rates.
Matt says a combined index of these categories is a much more accurate indicator of college readiness. "It's the whole student," he says.
This new index has been tested against a massive Department of Education study that followed a national cohort of 8th graders over the course of 12 years. Of the around 500,000 students in the study who did not attend post secondary school of any kind, 90-percent of them would have been flagged by the index—in 8th grade.
What's more, the index shows that motivation and behavior combined have more impact on a student's readiness than academic achievement. "People often think it's all about test scores," Matt says. "That's not true."
Matt says all of this is good news for parents. "We can get very good, very useful diagnoses about your kid's progress towards important goals much earlier than we ever thought we could," he says.
Matt and his colleagues are already working with school systems on a tool to get their index in the hands of teachers and parents -- to flag learning gaps in students before it's too late.