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By J.B. Wogan November 15, 2012

Federal money supported states' push for college readiness standards and testing

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he wanted to help high school students gauge whether they're ready for college.

In a fact sheet about his higher education agenda, Obama explained that too many students choose to skip college because they discover too late that they are unprepared for college coursework. Pointing to existing early assessment programs in some states, Obama said he wanted to expand that model across the country.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the economic stimulus, included about $350 million for states to develop high school performance assessments aligned to a common set of academic standards. These tests would serve as early indicators of college and career readiness. The standards, officially called the Common Core State Standards, were the product of states working together to define national expectations for math and reading. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards and many have begun using them in the classroom. However, most students aren't scheduled to take tests based on the standards until 2014.

Several high schools are already administering college entrance exams, such as the ACT or SAT, to see if 11th graders are prepared for college, according to the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan research group at George Washington University. Those tests are different than future state college readiness assessments based on the Common Core State Standards, but their broad objective -- gauging students' fitness for college-level coursework -- is the same. In December 2011, the center found that 11 states require or plan to require that high school students take college entrance exams. Five of those states began the practice in the last four years.

The shift to college readiness standards and assessments is largely a states-driven effort, but the experts we interviewed gave the Obama administration credit for helping in three ways:

  • The 2009 economic stimulus: money for states to develop college readiness assessments;
  • Race to the Top competitive grants in 2011 and 2012: more money for more states to develop college readiness assessments;
  • Waivers under the 2001 federal law, No Child Left Behind: States that demonstrated their commitment to college readiness standards and assessments stood a better chance of receiving a temporary exemption from some of the law's requirements.

Obama's overarching promise in the campaign document was to "help students become aware of college readiness." We see that 45 states are giving or close to giving new college readiness assessments, in part because of financial support and policy guidance from the federal government. Several states are using college preparedness as a guide in their curriculum today; some are already administering exams to see if students are ready for college. We rate this a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

Interview with Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, Nov. 15, 2012

Email interview with David Conley, college and career readiness researcher and director of the Education Policy Improvement Center, Nov. 14, 2012

Common Core State Standards Initiative, States that have formally adopted the Common Core State Standards(accessed on Nov. 15, 2012)

Education Week, High Schools Bolstering College-Readiness Assessments, Dec. 8, 2011

Center on Education Policy, State High School Tests: Changes in State Policies and the Impact of the College and Career Readiness Movement, December 2011

U.S. Department of Education, Obama Administration Sets High Bar for Flexibility from No Child Left Behind in Order to Advance Equity and Support Reform, Sept. 23, 2011

Council of Chief State School Officers, The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI)(accessed on Nov. 14, 2012)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 6, 2010

No sign of work on creating "Early Assessment Program"

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to follow the lead of some states by developing a voluntary "Early Assessment Program" that "enables 11th graders and their families to ascertain if they are on track to be college ready by the time they graduate."

In California, for instance, such a program uses tests designed by the state Department of Education and the California State University system. The idea is to gauge whether students are ready for entry-level work on Cal State campuses. If they are, they can skip placement tests that they would otherwise have to take. If they aren't, they still have a year to get ready for the placement tests.

We searched using Google, and Nexis but couldn't find any evidence that the administration is taking tangible steps on this promise. Education advocates also told us they were not aware of any activity in this regard.

If such evidence emerges, we'll revisit the promise. But for now, we're calling it Stalled.

Our Sources

Education Week, " Beyond a Focus on Graduation; Postsecondary Work Seen as Key to Success," June 11, 2009

Interview with Mollie Benz Flounlacker, assistant vice president for federal relations at the Association of American Universities, Jan 6, 2010

E-mail interview with Barry Toiv, vice president for public affairs at the Association of American Universities, Jan. 5, 2010

Internet searches that produced no results

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