ACT has some fascinating research on that subject here: http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/reports/curriculum.html
This is a fantastic question and I look forward to seeing what others post.
One organization that is doing some very interesting work is Achieve http://www.achieve.org/via their American Diploma Project. Because education is federated (power at the state/local level), this organization is working to form a consortium/conversation of states who are on the same page regarding curriculum standards for college readiness. Pretty interesting stuff! I think this article might be helpful: http://www.achieve.org/files/CollegeandCareerReady.pdf
There are many definitions to “college ready” in the literature. I recommend that you start with ACT, Inc’s website http://www.act.org/ When you arrive there, click on the 2009 College Readiness Report. It’s a good start.
College board has done a fabulous job with College Readiness Standards in
both English/Language Arts and Math.
I would recommend checking with ACT for their college readiness standards. You may also find some useful information at www.collegeready.umn.edu.
Clifford Adelman conducted one of the best studies done on college degree attainment, entitled Answers in the Tool Box, and his discussion of the importance of a student’s high school curriculum could be very helpful to you.
I’m using the seven skills enumerated in the article below as a jumping off point, and chairing a faculty committee that will determine how to build these into day-to-day instruction. Hope this helps.
Seven Skills That Students Need to Succeed in College and Beyond
“Even in America’s most highly regarded secondary schools,” writes Harvard researcher Tony Wagner in this Education Weekarticle, “we are not teaching or testing the skills that matter most for college, careers, and citizenship in the 21stcentury.” Based on his interviews with college teachers, college students, business executives, and officers in the armed forces, Wagner has identified seven “survival skills” that all students need to make it in college, excel in good jobs, and be leaders in their communities:
• Critical thinking and problem-solving– Every college student needs to be able to think critically and apply knowledge to new situations, says Wagner, and businesses are looking for workers who are able to think about continuously improving products, processes, and services.
• Collaborating and leading across networks – “Most work in this country is done in teams,” says Wagner, but K-12 classrooms mostly have students doing solo work. It’s only in athletics and other extracurricular activities that students learn about teamwork.
• Agility and adaptability – Most current jobs will change or cease to exist, business executives told Wagner, so workers need to be nimble and able to use a variety of tools to solve new problems.
• Initiative and entrepreneurialism – “If you try five things and get all five of them right, you may be failing,” says Mark Chandler, senior vice president at Cisco Systems. “If you try 10 things and get eight of them right, you’re a hero.” His point is that the best workers set stretch goals and constantly push the envelope.
• Effective oral and written communication– College teachers and business leaders say that poor writing and speaking skills are a major problem for many of today’s young people.
• Accessing and analyzing information – High-school students may be adept at surfing the Net, says Wagner, but very few know how to do an effective Internet search and zero in on the most important information.
• Curiosity and imagination – “I want people who can think – they’re not just bright, they’re also inquisitive,” says former CEO Clay Parker. “Are they engaged, are they interested in the world?”
Mastery of these seven skills is the key to the United Statesremaining competitive in the global economy, Wagner concludes. He believes that college admissions officers should push high schools to teach and test these critical competencies, emphasizing them more than test scores or memorized knowledge.
“Teaching and Testing the Skills That Matter Most” by Tony Wagner in Education Week, Nov. 12, 2008 (Vol. 28, #12, p. 30)
Wagner speaks highly of the College and Work Readiness Assessment, which can be accessed at http://www.cae.org/content/pro_collegework.htm.
Diane Ravitch recently pointed out that, “the campaign against homework goes on. Its success will guarantee a steady decline in the very activities that matter most in education: independent reading; thoughtful writing; research projects.”
16 May 2007
Page Per Year Plan
By Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
“Reading maketh a Full Man, Conference a Ready Man, and Writing an Exact Man.”
Francis Bacon, Of Studies, 1625
Diane Ravitch recently pointed out that, “the campaign against homework goes on. Its success will guarantee a steady decline in the very activities that matter most in education: independent reading; thoughtful writing; research projects.”
It is clearer and clearer that most high school students, when they do read a book, read fiction. The College Board’s Reading List of 101 Books for the College-Bound Student includes only four works of nonfiction: Walden, Emerson’s Essays, Night, and The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Nothing by David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer, or any other great contemporary (or past) historian is suggested for the “College-Bound Student.”
The SAT, ACT, and NAEP writing assessments, and most state writing standards, require no prior knowledge and challenge students to write their opinions and personal stories in 25 minutes. Unless college history professors start assigning term papers by saying: “‘History repeats itself.’ See what you can write about that in 25 minutes and turn it in six weeks from now,” our high school graduates will continue to find that they have been sadly misled about the demands for academic writing they will face.
A national study done for The Concord Review in 2002, of the assignment of high school history term papers, found that 81% of public high school history teachers never assign a 20-page paper, and 62% never assign a 12-page paper any more, even to high school seniors. The Boston Latin School, a famous exam school, no longer assigns the “traditional history term paper.”
One reason for this, I believe, is that teachers find that by the time their students are Juniors and Seniors in high school, they have done so little academic expository writing that they simply could not manage a serious history research paper, if they were asked to do one.
For eight  years, I have suggested, to those who doubt the ability of U.S. high school seniors to write academic history research papers, that schools should start on our Page Per Year Plan, which would work as follows:
Each first grader would be required to write a one-page paper on a subject other than herself or himself, with at least one source.
A page would be added each year to the required academic writing, such that, for example, fifth graders would have to write a five-page paper (five sources), ninth graders would have to write a nine-page research paper, with nine sources, and so on, until each and every senior could be asked to prepare a 12-page academic research paper (twelve sources), with endnotes and bibliography, on some historical topic, which the student could choose each year.
This would gradually prepare students for future academic writing tasks, and each senior could graduate from high school knowing more about some important topic than anyone else in the class, and he/she might also have read at least one nonfiction (history) book before college. This could reduce the need for remedial instruction in writing (and perhaps in remedial reading as well) at the college level.
At each grade level, teachers would need more time to help students plan their papers and to evaluate and comment on them when the papers came in, but with our Page Per Year Plan, all students would be likely to graduate from U.S. high schools with better academic expository writing skills and better reading skills.
In our public schools, the power over reading and writing belongs to the English Department, and many social studies and history teachers, perhaps especially those who are preparing students for AP exams, do not believe their students have the time to read a history book or write a history research paper.
While this is the rule, there are exceptions, and I have been glad to publish history papers written by AP history students in the last 20 years of The Concord Review. But all too often, those exemplary papers were written by students putting in the extra time and effort to do an independent study, of the sort that Diane Ravitch believes is now in steady decline in our schools.
Of course it is rewarding for me to receive letters, like one from Shounan Ho when she was at Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles, which included a comment that: “I wrote this paper independently, during my own time out of school. My motives for doing so were both academic and personal. Although history has always been my favorite subject, I had never written a paper with this extensive research before. After reading the high quality of essays in The Concord Review, I was very inspired to try to write one myself. I thought it was a significant opportunity to challenge myself and expand my academic horizons. Thus during the summer before my Senior year, I began doing the research for my own paper.” She is now a John Jay Scholar at Columbia University, and it seems likely she found that she had prepared herself well for college work.
But what about those students who depend on educators to set academic standards which will prepare them for the reading and writing tasks ahead? For those students, I recommend that teachers consider the Page Per Year Planto help their students get ready. Again, this plan would also make it somewhat more likely that our high school graduates would have been asked to read perhaps one complete history book before they leave for college or for work.
I agree with the recent comment by Will Dix about the benefit of the IB extended essay and the research skills it implies. If you can find a set of these books, check out the College Board’s, “Academic Preparation for College.” This a 26 year old series but is clear in its delineation of basic academic competencies. Also, the listing of academic subjects is helpful. The summary booklet recognizes an emerging need for computer competency with a discussion of the topic in the third chapter but clearly illustrates the age of the series.
College Success Blog
The College Puzzle
Dr. Michael W. Kirst
Professor Emeritus, Stanford University
28 August 2008
“Windows On College Readiness” by Guest Blogger Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
The Bridgespan Group, working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has just released a report called “Reclaiming the American Dream.” The study was intended to find out how to get more U.S. high school students prepared for and through college.
Much of the report is about getting kids to go to college, and it finds that if there is enough money provided, and if parents, peers, counselors and teachers say going to college is important, more high school students are likely to go.
The major weakness of the report, in my view, is its suggestions for the kind of high school work that will help students to do college work and to graduate.
One of the concluding statements is that “Inertia is particularly difficult to overcome when people are unaware that a problem exists or that the potential for solving it is real.” What a useful insight. What they recommend for high school students is “a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.” What could be wrong with that?
Two very simple and basic things are wrong with that. Current “college preparatory” curricula, including AP courses, do not include the reading of complete nonfiction books or the writing of serious research papers.
That is almost as if we had a crisis in preparing high school football players for success in college and recommended a standard preparation program which did not give them practice in running, blocking and tackling. ACT found last spring that 49 percent of the high school students it tested could not read at the level of college freshman texts. And the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a survey in which 90 percent of college professors thought high school students were not well prepared in reading, writing and doing research. A true college education requires reading serious books and writing substantial papers—although many schools have watered their requirements down. High school students should be ready for in-depth study.
If high school football players haven’t done much blocking or tackling in high school, no one would expect them to play well in college, but somehow we expect high school students in a college preparatory program which includes no nonfiction books and no real research papers to do well with college reading lists and with college term paper assignments.
In my state, Massachusetts, 34 percent of the students who go to state four-year colleges are in remedial classes, according to The Boston Globe. Those students had the expectations, support, access and aspiration for the college dream, but when they got there, they were not ready to do the work.
The Gates report says that “the high school environment needs to provide students with high expectations and strong teaching…” but without any real focus on students’ independent academic reading and writing, that environment doesn’t do the job of preparing students for college work.
If we want students to be able to read and understand college books and to write research papers there, then we must give students a chance to learn how to do that in a ”rigorous college preparatory program” in high school. But that is not happening, and just about no one is paying attention to the fact that it is not happening.
The inertia in this case that is “particularly difficult to overcome” is the exclusive focus on what teachers do and what courses cover in textbooks. There must be more attention to the actual academic work that students are required to do—at least in the humanities. Perhaps in mathematics and the sciences, some students are really doing the kind of academic work that prepares them, but in the world of academic reading (nonfiction books) and academic writing (serious research papers), most schools badly serve their students. This report, like so many others, completely misses that.
The Business Roundtable reported in 2004 that their member companies were spending more than $3 billion each year on remedial writing courses for both salaried and hourly employees, so even many of our college graduates may not have achieved a very satisfactory level of academic competence in reading and writing these days. With so many ill-prepared students coming into college, many professors have taken the path of least resistance and watered down their courses.
Our high school programs for students who hope to succeed in college and beyond should require them to write extended essays and papers which are rigorously graded. They should also require students to read at least one serious complete nonfiction book every year. While this may be beyond the prevailing and generally feeble educational standards of the moment, if we don’t do it, most U.S. high school students will continue to be unprepared for higher education.
The ten of us shuffled into the tiny classroom, anxious and shy at this first meeting of our required freshman expository writing course. Awkwardly avoiding eye contact with the other students, I pulled out a notebook and began to scribble down every rapid-fire detail of course administration our preceptor was describing. As he began listing our paper requirements, I looked around to see if anyone else was going to ask for the obvious piece of information he had forgotten to mention, and, seeing no takers, fulfilled my freshman-week resolution to be bold and courageous by raising the question myself.
“Um…excuse me, but…,” I spluttered, “You said our first paper is ‘four to five’; that’s what? Paragraphs?”
The dreaded awkward pause ensued. My classmates began looking at each other, confirming the humor in the situation—and my ignorance. The stifled titters became laughs, and soon the entire room, including my preceptor, had erupted in great mirth. Seeing him join in the hilarity opened everyone else right up, and the atmosphere in the room relaxed as we proceeded, quickly changing topics after my preceptor wryly smiled at me and pronounced: “Pages. That’s four to five pages.”
Well, great. Glad to take one for the team and warm up the crowd. Or at least, that’s what the strong, bold and courageous part of me struggled to assure myself. But the sensible, and somewhat bitter part of me (I do confess, the larger part at that moment) wanted to desperately exclaim “How was I supposed to KNOW that?”
I had never written more than five paragraphs for any essay or paper in my entire academic career prior to entering university. Not one. Now, I tell you, I wrote one fine five-paragraph essay, but no one ever told me that would become a completely worthless skill after Advanced Placement exams were done and your high school GPA was calculated. No one ever thought to mention to me that the college papers I had been warned about would be quantitatively and substantively vastly different from the little expository essay with its introduction, conclusion, and three body paragraphs.
I thought a required freshman writing course was meant to introduce us to college paper-writing. To ease us into the more rigorous scholastic environment we had so recently entered. In reality, the course was a refresher for most of the other students in the class. At a high-level academic institution, too many of the students come from private schools that have realized that it would be an academic failure on their parts to send their students to college without experience with longer papers, research environments, exposure to non-fiction literature, and knowledge of bibliographic techniques. And they’re right. It is a failure, one being perpetrated by too many public high schools across the nation.
It took me two years to gain a working knowledge of paper-writing, to get to a point where I was constructing arguments and using evidence to support them. I read pamphlets and books on the mechanics of writing college papers, but the reality is simple: you only learn how to write papers by WRITING them. So here I am, about to graduate, with a GPA much lower than it should be and no real way to explain to graduate schools and recruiting companies that I spent my first semesters just scraping by. And the amount of determination, energy and devotion it took to scrape by isn’t easily quantified and demonstrable.
This lack of forethought on the part of high school educators and administrators is creating a large divide among college graduates—and it’s one that helps neither the students nor their alumni institutions. Modern public high schools have an obligation not to simply pump out graduates at the end of the year, but also to prepare their students for the intellectual rigors of college.
Or at least to teach them how to keep their mouths shut on the first day of class.
Laura Arandes graduated with the Class of 2005 at Harvard College.
She attended a public high school in California.
[this account written for Will Fitzhugh, November 2004]
“…But in the humanities the pickings are quite thin. Thus we are encouraged by two programs: one now well-established and one just in its early stages: The Concord Review and the National Writing Board. The Concord Review has, since 1988, published  high school papers in history [from 36 countries] on a quarterly basis. The papers are 15-20 pages long [average 5,500 words, with endnotes and bibliography] and represent extensive research and writing skills. They are chosen rigorously, following high academic standards. Even submitting an essay, to say nothing of having one published, is evidence of serious scholarly achievement.
The National Writing Board  has recently begun to assess examples of quality student writing, and submits their three-page reports to colleges for admission purposes. Twenty-two  highly selective colleges, both research universities and liberal arts colleges, have stated their willingness to accept these evaluations. This promises to be an excellent tool for colleges to add to their array of evaluative techniques. While some colleges ask for a graded paper of the student’s work, few have the time or the expertise to evaluate these systematically as part of an application for admission. It is more efficient if these can be evaluated by an independent and reliable source.
Both of these mechanisms evaluate serious academic work undertaken as a part of the student’s high school curriculum. It is comparable to the kinds of tasks college faculty set for their own students. Thus there is greater “fit” between the material being evaluated and the future education of these students than exists for the other conventional measures. If we can encourage colleges and students to use these tools more widely, perhaps we can balance the frenzy of noneducational (or even antieducational) activity by high school students with more substantial intellectual work in the humanities.”
National Writing Board
The National Writing Board, founded in 1998, has now given an independent, unbiased assessment of high school history research papers from 31 states, and sent each author a three-page report, with scores and comments from two Readers, which she/he has asked us to send to college admissions officers (at 79 colleges so far), or simply could use as feedback on one of her/his best history research papers. Papers of two lengths—around 2,000 words, or around 5,000 words—with (Chicago-style) endnotes and bibliography, may be submitted, with a notarized Submission Form and a check for $200, made out to the National Writing Board, to: the National Writing Board, 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776. [We spend more than three hours on each paper.] We have a fee waiver for those granted a fee waiver by the College Board. The following (39) colleges and universities now endorse this independent assessment service for academic writing: Amherst, Boston University, Bowdoin, Carnegie Mellon, Claremont McKenna, Colgate, Connecticut College, Cooper Union, Dartmouth, Duke, Eckerd, Emory, George Mason, Georgetown, Hamilton, Harvard, Haverford, Illinois Wesleyan, Lafayette, Lehigh, Michigan, Middlebury, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Pitzer, Princeton, Reed, Richmond, Sarah Lawrence, Shimer, Smith, Spelman, Stanford, Trinity (CT), Tufts, the University of Virginia, Washington and Lee, Williams, and Yale.
We would be delighted to place National Writing Board brochures in our lobby to encourage more of our applicants to participate in your service. Fifty might be an appropriate number. I hope more students will participate in the future. You are providing them (and us) with a wonderful service. Martha C. Merrill, Dean of Admission, Connecticut College
I am happy to join the Advisory Council of the National Writing Board, and I look forward to working with you to bring this useful new national rating service both to high school students of history and of literature and to college admissions officers in the years to come.
William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions at Harvard College
For all the reasons given by my colleagues at other colleges and universities, I would welcome this additional information as we attempt to select the most talented and deserving students to join our undergraduate community. Daniel J. Saracino, Assistant Provost for Enrollment, University of Notre Dame
With admiration for its important contribution to the education of high school students, I am pleased to endorse, on behalf of Reed College, the National Writing Board (NWB)…The quality of the writing that NWB fosters and The Concord Review publishes is what we hope to see in the essays applicants send us. We will gladly share National Writing Board brochures with visitors to our admission office. Paul Marthers, Dean of Admission, Reed College
Northwestern would be interested in receiving scores and comments from the National Writing Board…I hope that the number of students who are interested in doing this will grow…good writing is an extremely important part of college and of life…Please send us 100 more brochures for our admissions office. Carol Lunkenheimer, Director of Admission, Northwestern University
I am pleased to tell you that Washington and Lee’s undergraduate admissions office would be most happy to receive and review National Writing Board evaluations of student papers. William M. Hartog, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Washington and Lee University
We are happy to endorse your program and to consider scores and comments submitted by the National Writing Board for students applying to Williams College. Richard L. Nesbitt, Director of Admissions, Williams College
Claremont McKenna College is very interested in the work that you and your colleagues are doing. Our Admission Committee would certainly be willing to consider the scores and comments of the National Writing Board. Richard C. Vos, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Claremont McKenna College
I can assure you that Georgetown University will be delighted to receive reports on excellent writing that you develop through papers submitted to you…Georgetown would be pleased to be included in the list of institutions you have compiled which support your efforts. Charles A. Deacon, Dean of Admissions, Georgetown University
I am pleased to announce that the University of Michigan would like to join the select group of colleges that endorse the National Writing Board. We are interested in supporting a service that encourages the development of high school students’ research and writing skills. We look forward to receiving research papers with accompanying ratings and comments submitted for consideration by UofM applicants.
Thank you for including the University of Michigan in this important mission.
Theodore L. Spencer, Director of Admissions, University of Michigan
It is hard to imagine a better way to stimulate serious research and writing in our schools.
the late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Historian
The University of Virginia is pleased to endorse the National Writing Board and the important project you have undertaken…I commend you for founding and leading this effort…We would be happy to place your brochures in our reception room so that more high school students will consider doing it. John Blackburn, late Dean of Admission, University of Virginia