Common Core for College Readiness

Opinion by Tiffany Miller of the Center for American Progress in USNews


The Common Core standards can help prepare college-bound students from disadvantaged backgrounds.


It's that time of year again where new high school graduates are preparing for their next adventure – their first year of college. It can be both exciting and scary, especially for first-generation college students. I should know, I was one of them. 

I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know which classes to select or how to acclimate to a new culture that I had never been exposed to. I thought I was prepared academically – but wasn't really sure. Would I be able to keep up? What exactly was expected of me? Would I graduate? 

This scenario is all too familiar for disadvantaged students who are the first in their families to go to college. And for far too many, they realize early on that they are not prepared academically for a rigorous college education. 

[READ: The Myth of 'Grade Level']


Unfortunately, this isn't new. A study released last month by ACT and the Council for Opportunity in Education confirms what we've known for years: First-generation students are much less prepared for college than their peers whose parents went to college. According to the report, 80 percent of first-generation students who took the ACT said they planned to go to college, yet only 9 percent met all four ACT benchmarks predictive of college success. The statistics aren't much better for low-income students. Among low-income students, 84 percent aspire to obtain a bachelor's or graduate degree yet only 11 percent met all four ACT college readiness benchmarks.

This does not bode well for disadvantaged students who are hoping that going to and completing college will change their life trajectory.

[READ: Making Classrooms Work]

The assumption that disadvantaged students will go to college underprepared doesn't have to be the norm. In fact, ensuring that all students are prepared for college and career was the impetus behind the 43 states and the District of Columbia that adopted the Common Core State Standards. Research showsthat students who are exposed to rigorous curricula and the practices that the Common Core embodies are more likely to succeed in college or a career.

While it's too early to definitively state whether or not the Common Core is improving student achievement, early adopters are showing great promise. In Massachusetts, for example, low-income students outperformed their peers nationally in fourth and eighth grade in both reading and math. In Kentucky, one of the early Common Core adopters, scores have steadily climbed overall and among subgroups of disadvantaged students in math. And in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo enlisted a commission to improve Common Core implementation, African-American and Latino students showed academic gains in New York City.

[READ: Proficiency Deficiencies]

As more states release their test results later this summer and fall, we'll see how students in other states are doing. We'll likely see a drop in test scores as students are tested against more rigorous standardsfor the first time. However, a preliminary look at assessment results in Washington and Oregon show that students are exceeding expectations.

These promising results couldn't come at a better time. According to the ACT 52 percent of first-generation high school graduates and 49 percent of low-income students didn't meet a single college readiness benchmark. I can't help but be concerned how these students will fare in college. 

The Common Core has the potential to be the biggest education reform in decades. Its promise could give many students their best shot at a productive, fulfilling future in college and career. As a first-generation student who graduated from college, I was one of the lucky ones. My high school prepared me academically. I had an incredible support system, including my family and college adviser, that encouraged and helped me with the difficult transition. But I am one of the few. I wonder if disadvantaged first generation college students in the 2015 freshman class will be as fortunate as I was.


Tiffany Miller is the director for education policy at the Center for American Progress. Her work focuses on all aspects of school improvement, including federal K-12 policy issues, school turnaround, expanded learning time, and high school 

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