College Proficiency Data Takes the Guesswork out of College Prep

“It’s about making sure high schools can use the information every day to make sound, strategic decisions to launch their students to postsecondary success.”

High schools could do a better job of preparing students for college success if they had the data to demonstrate how well their students are doing the year after high school.
In the absence of information to determine how well students do in “Year 13,” schools often must resort to guessing at the best ways to prepare students for college.  The situation is equivalent to trying to develop a cure for a disease and not knowing the results from clinical trials.
That assessment, by College Summit and the Center for American Progress, is explored in a report titled The Promise of Proficiency:  How College Proficiency Information Can Help High Schools Drive Student Success.

 “Throughout America, districts, schools, and nonprofits are starting to see postsecondary data’s value, and they are improving their offerings based on whether, where, and how successfully their graduates are enrolled the year after high school,” the report says. “The federal government, too, has begun to see the value of this data and is moving the needle forward, especially with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s call for better data systems and college proficiency reporting.”
According to the report, high schools need to understand two things to equip today’s students for college and career success:
  • College enrollment, or the rate their graduates enrolled in postsecondary study the semester after high school graduation
  • College proficiency, or the rate their graduates complete at least one year of college credit, as applicable to a degree, within two years
In 2008, Congress called on the U.S. Department of Education to make available the year-to-year postsecondary education enrollment rates of high school students, disaggregated by school.
But schools also need college proficiency data, for several reasons:
  • College proficiency data can help schools to respond quickly to problems. If a school learns that its graduates are struggling in college math but not in writing, the school can promptly take steps to improve its math program.  If a school’s college dropouts are disproportionately Latino, it can target efforts in that community.  And such responses can be implemented within time to make a difference.
  • College proficiency is a strong proxy for college graduation.  The peak time for dropping out of college is the first year.  If students make it through that year and enroll for a third semester, their chances of making it to graduation rise substantially.  That makes the first postsecondary year particularly worthy of attention from both high schools and colleges.
  • College proficiency measures actual college readiness.  While standardized test scores and the number of advanced placement courses taken may predict college success, they don’t ensure it. College proficiency provides actual proof of whether a high school has fulfilled its mission. If a student succeeds in her first year of postsecondary study, it is evident that her school prepared her.
To help every high school in America to learn in a systematic, methodical way how its graduates are doing in the first year after high school, The Promise of Proficiency report also calls on the federal government to support the gathering of college proficiency data by school, to disseminate the data and empower high schools to use it, and to reward high schools for progress in college proficiency.
The report concludes, “It’s about making sure high schools can use the information every day to make sound, strategic decisions to launch their students to postsecondary success.”
Texas high schools have access to a range of useful college enrollment and proficiency information, available from the College for All Texans Foundation and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board:
Another resource, the non-profit National Student Clearinghouse, provides a Student Tracker for High Schools that allows schools to see when and where their graduates enroll, how long they persist, whether they transfer, whether they graduate, what their degrees are, and their courses of study.