College Readiness Replacing Test Scores as Measure of High School Effectiveness

Will new get-tough measures for evaluating high school performance really improve schools?

What makes a high school effective? Is it the number of students who graduate? Sky-high test scores? Those are the traditional measures, but the majority of recent high school grads say they don't feel high school prepared them for college or the workforce, and college placement tests slot students into endless remedial classes that don't count toward their degrees. So a new model is emerging, one that aims to evaluate high schools based on how well they prepare students for college.

Both New York City and Chicago will begin evaluating high schools according to college readiness indicators. According to recently released data from the City University of New York—where 60 percent of the city's college-bound high school grads enroll—only a quarter don't require remedial classes. In order to better determine if schools are preparing students for college-level work, the New York City Department of Education intends to evaluate data on how many students pass tougher high school classes like physics and chemistry, Advanced Placement tests, and International Baccalaureate exams.

Similarly, the Chicago Tribune reports that 76 of the city's 122 high schools are on probation for poor academics, some of which have underperformed for five years or more. Chicago Public Schools intends to begin evaluating the city's high schools according to still-to-be-announced college readiness indicators. And like in New York, schools that don't make the grade will face closure.

Ensuring students are college- or career-ready should certainly be a priority for high schools, but proposals like the ones under consideration in Chicago and New York City can feel a little hollow. Revising the way a school is evaluated doesn't change the fact that too many students are behind in both reading and math by the time they get to high school. It's great that school districts want kids to take more AP classes, but a freshman whose reading skills are on a sixth-grade level isn't going to be able to cut it in AP English. Without additional financial resources to support teachers and get kids up to speed, too many high schools will earn failing grades on these new measures, too.

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