In December 2014 Achieve, Inc. released the report Rising to the Challenge: Are High School Graduates Prepared for College and Work? We think the information in this report is important not just for schools, but for parents as well. In our last post we shared some of the results of this survey. In this post, we share some of the implications for parents and students.
Preparing to succeed in college seems to begin earlier and earlier. Laying the solid foundation of academic skills, softer life skills, and getting ready for the admissions process takes years. Some of the work is conscious for your student, and some may happen unconsciously. Some is under your student’s direct control, and some of the preparation depends on your student’s school, family, and mentors. Can you help? The answer is a resounding yes, but not necessarily in ways that you might think of at first.
Both parents and students can, and must, take control of the college preparation process.
How does this affect me — or my student?
Achieve works primarily on a state level, and as a result of this survey the organization has made several important recommendations to states and to individual school districts. We think the information is important to parents, too, and we think that parents can, and should, talk to their high school students about some of these findings. Students who become aware of shortcomings while they are in high school rather than after high school are in a position to do something to improve their own preparation.
What are the potential solutions?
In part as a result of this survey, Achieve has made nine recommendations which they see as potential solutions to some of the problems of college preparation. These are important recommendations for schools, but parents and students cannot, and should not, just sit and wait for schools to improve.
Seven of the nine recommendations can be adapted and adopted by students and parents to take control, at least somewhat, of their own preparation. Consider carefully how you and your student can work with the following recommendations.
- Set rigorous expectations; students will rise to the challenge. Schools must set high expectations, but parents must also set expectations. Students themselves must consider what they expect of themselves. Don’t rely on schools alone to set the expectations for your student.
- Encourage students to take the most advanced classes. Investigate the high school curriculum and offerings. Encourage your student to stretch and take hard courses. If necessary, lobby with the guidance office to allow your student access to higher level classes.
- Communicate with students early in high school (or even before) about expectations and skills (including courses) needed for future success. Yes, schools need to do this, but it can, and should, be reinforced by parents. Students need to gather information from multiple sources.
- Regularly tell all students whether they are ”on track.“ Students should check with teachers and guidance staff often to chart their progress. Are they taking the correct courses? Do they need to repeat something to solidify skills? Are they acquiring the skills that they will need for college? Don’t wait for the school to provide information; seek the information.
- Tie learning in high school to life outside of the classroom by providing real-world learning opportunities. Whether or not your student’s high school provides outside experience, help your student seek it. This may take the form of informational interviews, summer jobs, community service, or mentoring. Help your student relate what he is learning in the classroom to his life.
- Provide support and help for students who need it. Schools can provide support and tutoring, but students need to take advantage of it. Encourage your student to seek and use whatever support is offered. If it is not offered through the school, and your student needs help, seek outside tutoring if possible.
- Be sure all students understand and know the benefit of academic preparation for college and career. Everyone needs to be prepared for next steps. Encourage your student to look at the bigger picture — look down the road. Encourage your student to talk to current college students to hear about their academic experiences. Help your student find connections between what he is learning and doing in high school and what lies ahead.
Some might look at the results of this survey of high school preparedness and feel discouraged. It does indicate significant gaps, and schools clearly have work to do. But it also points to several ways in which students and parents can be aware of weaker areas and take charge of and be proactive about their own college preparation process.
Begin the dialogue with your student early — and return to it often.