It has been two years since I last wrote in The Intersection about Common Core and higher education, and a huge amount of progress has occurred since then. The most tangible evidence of higher education’s increased commitment to the success of the Common Core is the more than 200 colleges and universities in seven states that have agreed to use the Smarter Balanced high school assessments as evidence that students are ready for entry-level, credit-bearing courses. In addition, more than 50 colleges and universities have taken steps to be able to use the PARCC assessment for the same purpose once that consortium sets its performance standards later this year. This quote from Washington Student Achievement Council executive director Gene Sharratt describes the motivation that has led to these actions:
We are proud of the innovative approaches our education leaders are taking to ensure that our students are well-prepared for any college and career pathway they choose. Collaboration and a student-centered focus have been key to creating the cross-sector agreements aligning secondary and postsecondary education in Washington State. Use of the Smarter Balanced Assessment as a means of placing students directly into college-level coursework will have a positive impact by increasing access, reducing remediation, and improving career and college attainment.
The use of Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments by colleges and universities is more than an endorsement of those tests as authentic and accurate measures of student learning. It is also a validation of the standards as truly encompassing the knowledge and skills necessary for success in college or postsecondary career education. Higher education’s use of the assessments sends a clear signal to students and their parents that learning the knowledge and skills that are embodied in the Common Core matters for their future success.
As valuable as that signal is, it’s not the most important part of these new policies to use the high school assessments. What matters most is what happens to students who are not yet ready for entry-level college courses. In most of the Smarter Balanced states that have enacted these policies, K-12 teachers and higher education faculty have collaborated to create new grade 12 courses that help students close gaps in academic preparation and eliminate the need for developmental courses from which too few go on to complete a degree.
Common Core has been a game-changer in so many ways. For higher education, it holds the promise of a new level of cross-sector collaboration that can set far more students on a pathway to success in college and in life. The higher education leaders I work with are excited about the possibilities and invigorated at the prospect of more robust and productive partnerships with their K-12 colleagues.