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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: Washington Student Achievement Council

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March 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Not ready for college: Will Common Core help?

One of the most well-known obstacles to college completion in Washington is a lack of preparation, particularly in math. A new state council says a fix to the problem is coming soon. But one group of researchers warns that the state’s solution is a risky one that is generating controversy elsewhere.

First, some background: A high percentage of Washington’s high-school graduates fail to meet college standards for math and writing skills, deficiencies that are revealed when they take college placement tests. This is an especially common problem in community colleges, where more than 50 percent of incoming students require pre-college math classes — or developmental math — before they can advance to college-level math. And educators know that being assigned to developmental classes raise the risk that a student will drop out without ever finishing a degree.

Most educators agree that the problem ought to be fixed in high school, by making sure students are college-ready before they graduate. And one of the ways to do this is to test student skill levels in 11th grade, then use 12th grade for catch-up classes if needed.

The Washington Student Achievement Council, a new state agency that makes policy recommendations on higher education, embraces the idea of testing 11th graders, and using the senior year of high school to correct any deficiencies. The council believes the fix is already on its way; 11th grade tests are a part of the new Common Core academic standards, which are designed to prepare students for college or a job by the time they graduate from high school.

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