Colleges Must Help Further the Goals of Common Core Standards, Report Says

July 22, 2014

Higher education cannot afford to sit on the sidelines as states and secondary schools devise common standards that seek to define who’s ready for college, according to a report released on Tuesday by the New America Foundation.

The report, "Common Core Goes to College: Building Better Connections Between High School and Higher Education," calls on colleges and public schools to work together to agree on what it means to be college-ready.

Common Core State Standards in mathematics, writing, and literacy have been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia as a way to prepare students for college and the work force. Some states have resisted the standards however, and they remain highly politicized and deeply controversial among educators.

But one of the biggest barriers to carrying out the standards, according to the report, is that colleges have not adjusted their admissions, financial-aid, and remedial-education policies to line up with the standards.

As a result, the report says, "The Common Core standards appear at the moment to end at the college gate."

The standards will be accompanied by tests that measure students’ progress, culminating in a final assessment of college readiness that students will take in 11th grade. That test will be given for the first time during the 2014-15 academic year.

While colleges were supposed to have approved the standards, and the tests designed to measure them, “careful analysis of state policies and practices reveals a higher-education landscape riddled with complications and shortcomings for the successful alignment of higher education with the Common Core,” the report notes.

Colleges that require minimum scores on standardized tests like the ACT and SAT should also allow students to demonstrate proficiency through their scores on the tests being devised to measure Common Core learning, the report says. Students "should not be required to jump through multiple hoops of assessment" in order to be admitted to college, the report says.

Meanwhile, it says, states should align their requirements for high-school graduation with those for entering college. And to help students who fall short, more states should offer developmental classes in 12th grade and the summer following it.

‘Unnecessary Barriers’

Some higher-education officials disagree with the assertion that they aren’t involved. Many community colleges have been working closely for years with public schools through dual-enrollment and other programs to streamline the path from high school to college, according to David S. Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges.

And while the association hasn’t taken an official position on the Common Core standards, he said, "any efforts by states to adopt more-rigorous academic standards for high schools are undoubtedly going to be positive for our sector."

More than 200 higher-education leaders nationwide announced their support for the standards last month by forming a coalition called Higher Ed for Higher Standards.

The report’s author, Lindsey Tepe, a program associate in the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program, welcomed their involvement but said colleges needed to play a more active role in working with schools to define the standards.

Among the steps the report recommends are aligning colleges’ remedial courses with Common Core standards. Requiring students who pass Common Core tests to take additional basic-skills tests creates "unnecessary barriers to college-level coursework," it says.

Teacher-education programs should also include instruction in how to use college and career-ready standards in teaching, according to the report.

Even community colleges, which in theory accept anyone with a high-school diploma or equivalency degree, have entry requirements for certain competitive programs such as nursing, the report notes. Scores on Common Core assessments should be considered, the report says.

A survey released last year by the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University found that elementary- and secondary-school educators were having trouble getting colleges to revamp teacher-training programs and take other steps to line up expectations for college.

"There’s been a lot invested in the Common Core and a lot of hope put in it, but they’re just standards," the center’s executive director, Maria Voles Ferguson, said in an interview on Monday. "How they get translated into practice, and what that means for higher education, I don’t think anyone knows yet."