The Intersection

Common Core and College Completion: A Shared Agenda for K-12 and Higher Education

April 29, 2013


While K-12 education has been pre-occupied with implementing the Common Core State Standards, higher education has been engaged in its own reform agenda aimed at radically increasing the number of Americans with high quality postsecondary credentials.

This is a multi-faceted effort that includes broadening access to higher education through technological innovations such as MOOCs (massive open online courses), providing more avenues for working adults to complete degrees and increasing completion rates among traditional-age undergraduates.

Not surprisingly, research has consistently shown that prior academic preparation is the single largest predictor of college completion. A large part of the college completion battle will be won if students arrive on campuses better prepared to succeed in first-year courses. The Common Core is therefore an essential element of the completion agenda. The challenge for K-12 and higher education is to move beyond traditional silos to collaborate in ways that will realize the promise of the Common Core for both sectors.

The good news is that the Common Core State Standards and assessments already have spurred an unprecedented level of K-16 collaboration. Chief state school officers and state higher education executive officers have led the way in promoting cross-sector partnership at the leadership level. National efforts led by foundations and associations, including Core to College, the College and Career Readiness Partnership and the Common Core Postsecondary Collaborative, have worked directly with K-16 teams in a number of states to facilitate Common Core implementation. The PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessment consortia also have had a major impact across their combined membership of 44 states, the District of Columbia, and several territories. Higher education faculty are actively engaged in helping to develop the assessments, and virtually all member states now have higher education teams in place that are doing the outreach, planning, and policy development work necessary to prepare for colleges to recognize agreed-upon performance levels on these assessments as evidence that students are ready for credit-bearing English and math courses and may be exempted from developmental education.

Successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards is a large and complex endeavor which requires partnerships that extend from early childhood education through postsecondary education and into the broader employer community. To fully reap the benefits of the Common Core, both schools and colleges will have to change long-standing practices with regard to curricula, instruction, and assessment. Teacher preparation and professional development programs must change rapidly to help educators adjust to new expectations. This is challenging work, and it can only succeed if K-12 and higher education faculty and administrators work together in a spirit of mutual trust and shared goals. In a few short years, we have made great strides. The road ahead is long and arduous, but we now can feel that the wind is at our back.


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