Preparing All Students for Postsecondary Success
To express support for challenging graduation requirements and provide recommendations for federal, state, and local policymakers to help schools ensure that all students meet those high standards.
Although much attention has been paid to the national graduation and dropout rates, those discussions obscure another population: students who obtain their high school diplomas but are not prepared to succeed in postsecondary education or the workforce. Those students are the near dropouts who earned enough credits to graduate, but have backgrounds similar to the 1.2 million students whom high schools “lose” annually. Data from the National Education Longitudinal Study indicates that only 21% of graduates from the lowest-income families are adequately prepared for postsecondary education, compared to 54% of graduates from middle- and high-income families. Many of those students—42% of freshmen in community colleges and 20% of freshman in four-year institutions—will take remedial courses in reading, writing, and mathematics after high school.
In the absence of national standards—which NASSP supports—many states are already taking the initiative to improve academic content standards and raise graduation requirements for all students. The American Diploma Project, launched by the nonprofit education reform organization Achieve, helps states align their standards “with the real-world expectations of employers and postsecondary faculty in the increasingly competitive global marketplace.” Since 2005, 22 states have aligned their high school standards to meet those goals and an additional 10 states plan to do so by the end of the 2008–2009 school year.
But raising academic standards alone is not enough to ensure that all students, especially low-income and minority students, will graduate from high school and succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce. Supports must be in place to help schools ensure that all students achieve this goal. The Pathways to College Network, an alliance of 38 national policy and membership organizations committed to advancing college access for underserved students, has established six core principles to guide the actions of federal, state, and local decisionmakers:
1. Expect that all underserved students are capable of being prepared to enroll and succeed in college
2. Provide a range of high-quality college-preparatory tools for underserved students and their families
3. Embrace social, cultural, and learning style differences when developing learning environments and activities for underserved students
4. Involve leaders at all educational levels in establishing policies, programs, and practices that facilitate student transitions toward postsecondary attainment from elementary to middle school, middle to high school, high school to college, and college to work and further education
5. Maintain sufficient financial and human resources to enable underserved students to prepare for, enroll in, and succeed in college
6. Assess policy, program, practice, and institutional effectiveness regularly.
NASSP Guiding Principles
1. NASSP believes that all students should graduate from high school with the skills to help them succeed in postsecondary education and the workplace.
2. NASSP supports the work of the American Diploma Project Network, which is composed of 34 states that are committed to:
Aligning high school standards and assessments with the knowledge and skills required for success after high school
Requiring all high school graduates to take challenging courses that actually prepare them for life after high school
Streamlining the assessment system so that the tests student take in high school can serve as readiness tests for postsecondary education and employment
Holding high schools accountable for graduating students who are ready for college or careers and holding postsecondary institutions accountable for students’ success once enrolled.
3. The NASSP Board of Directors approved a position statement in 2008 that called upon educators to embrace national standards and assessments as a way to prepare a new generation of knowledgeable and creative citizens who can effectively lead and collaborate in the new global economy.
4. Breaking Ranks II and Breaking Ranks in the Middle provide school leaders with a framework for improving the performance of each student by implementing best practices through collaborative leadership and professional learning communities; creating relevance through personalizing the environment; and addressing issues of rigor through curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
1. States should require colleges and universities to set clear and understandable academic expectations for incoming students and make those recommendations readily available to the public.
2. States should align their middle level promotion standards, high school graduation requirements, instruction, and assessments with the expectations of colleges and employers.
3. States should align principal and teacher preparation programs and professional development with higher graduation requirements.
4. States should offer incentives to help school districts attract and retain the most effective principals and teachers in the schools with the highest need.
5. States and districts should work together to build the capacity of principals and all teachers—especially content area teachers and career and technical education teachers—to align curriculum and assessments with the expectations of colleges and employers; to offer counseling services that prepare students for high school graduation, college admission, and career success; to engage and motivate students to meet higher standards; and to create positive relationships with parents and community members.
6. States and districts should implement a systemic transition plan for all students and encourage collaboration between elementary, middle level, and high schools.
7. States and districts should develop graduation requirements that allow students to choose from multiple pathways to graduation, including:
- Career and technical education courses that are aligned with higher standards
- Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs
- Dual-enrollment programs that allow students to earn high school and college credit simultaneously, and that assist students who are overage, undercredited, or returning dropouts
- Middle college high schools that are located on college campuses and allow students to earn a high school diploma and early college high schools that allow students to earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree simultaneously.
8. States and districts should target resources to middle level and high schools with high student-mobility rates and significant proportions of low-income students, English language learners, students with disabilities, and low-achieving students to help all students meet high expectations.
9. States and districts should ensure that students have access to academic supports that will help them stay on track toward graduation, including:
- Challenging core curricula at the middle level that are aligned with the high school curricula and will help students get on target for college and career readiness by the end of grade 8
- Counseling services for middle level and high school students that provide information and assistance about the requirements for high school graduation, college admission, and career success
- Personalized academic plans to support completion of middle level requirements and progress toward graduation
- Targeted and tiered interventions for middle level and high school students who are falling behind
- Online learning opportunities
- Extended learning time during the school day, week, and year
- Job shadowing, internships, and community service
- In-school and community-based social supports, such as counselors, social workers, and mental health services.
10. States and districts should allow schools to give some students, particularly English language learners and students with disabilities, more time to complete graduation requirements.
11. States and districts should reward schools for increasing their promotion and graduation rates and ensuring that more students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce.
12. The federal government should create a separate funding stream to improve student achievement at the middle level and high school, reduce the number of high school dropouts, and ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills they need to succeed in college and the workforce.
13. States should make every effort to increase the maximum compulsory age for school attendance to 18 for all students who have not already completed the requirements for a high school diploma.
Achieve. (2007. December). Aligning high school graduation requirements with the real world: a road map for states. Washington, DC: Author.
Achieve. (2008, July). Out of many, one: Toward rigorous common core standards from the ground up. Washington, DC: Author.
ACT. (2008). The forgotten middle: Ensuring that all students are on target for college and career readiness before high school. Iowa City, IA: Author.
Alliance for Excellent Education. (2008). From No Child Left Behind to every child a graduate. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from www.all4ed.org/files/ECAG.pdf
Bangser, M. (2008). Preparing high school students for successful transitions to postsecondary education and employment. Washington, DC: National High School Center.
Bottoms, G. &Young, M. (2008). Lost in transition: Building a better path from school to colleges and careers. Atlanta, GA: Southern Regional Education Board.
Colasanti, M. &Zaleski, A. (2007). Compulsory school age requirements. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.
Dounay, J. (2008). Dispelling the myths about the negative effects of raising high school graduation requirements. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.
National Governors Association. (2003). Ready for tomorrow: Helping all students achieve secondary and postsecondary success. Washington, DC: Author.
Pathways to College Network. (n.d.) About the pathways to college network. Retrieved from www.pathwaystocollege.net/aboutus/index.html
Steinberg, A. &Almeida, C. (2008). Raising graduation rates in an era of high standards. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
Adopted February 26, 2009