The College Puzzle Blog
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Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

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My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

Alignment Needed To Enhance College Completion and College Success

Some students have the potential to succeed in four-year colleges, but do not apply as they are concerned that they are not academically prepared. Many more students lack college readiness because their high school courses and exams are different from the academic expectations at college.

The alignment of curriculum standards, assessments, and teacher practice from K-12 through the first year of college can enhance academic preparation and college completion. In addition, K-16 assessment alignment (including placement exams) is desirable.

Three state policy possibilities have emerged:

(1) K-12 educators negotiate with colleges concerning a statewide aligned assessment both will use. No statewide higher education system has done this.

(2) Higher education negotiates with K-12 to modify an existing K-12 statewide exam to make it congruent with college/university expectations. California State University has done that through its Early Assessment Program.

K-12 officials agree to use an existing college assessment for their secondary grades. Six states use ACT and Maine utilizes the SAT I.

The ACT option is particularly interesting because ACT has 8th, 10th, and 11th grade assessments that could send signals to students about college readiness and areas of academic strength and weakness.

Unfortunately, the big problem with ACT is that it was never designed for secondary school teachers to use for their classroom instruction. Secondary school teachers complain that ACT is not specific or appropriate for them to plan their content or pedagogy.

It would be difficult to retrofit ACT so that it has the properties that current state and local K-12 standards contain. ACT is too generic and abstract for secondary school teachers, and is useful as a summative indicator, but not as a guide for weekly or monthly instruction.

Colorado merely put ACT at grade 11 on top of a state testing system that is unaligned with ACT at prior grades. Illinois uses ACT for its 11th grade exam and found thousands of students with ACT scores high enough to succeed in college, but no plans to go to college.

Kentucky will use all three ACT exams (grades 8, 10, 11), so we will know more about ACT’s potential to enhance college readiness.

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