Middle School Education and College Readiness

Mon February 1, 2016

running students

 

College readiness is one of the most discussed and stressed topics of secondary-level education. By college readiness, one typically refers to the body of knowledge and set of skills required in order to succeed in first-year, non-developmental courses at the postsecondary level, including two- and four-year colleges and technical schools. According to a 2014 publication through the US Department of Education by the National Center for Education Statistics, 28.7 percent of first- and second-year college students at 4-year institutions reported taking developmental courses. For 2-year institutions, this number inflates to 40.8 percent. Conversely, the number of students graduating from high school has been steadily increasing over the last decade. What is causing this discrepancy between high school graduation rate and lack of college readiness? The knowledge and skills that constitute college readiness do not have all of their roots in high school level education, but instead at the elementary and middle-school levels. At first this may seem counterintuitive – after all, grades prior to high school do not appear on college applications, and standardized tests taken at the elementary and middle-school levels are merely devices used by states to measure students’ progress as they prepare for higher learning. In some sense, pre-high school education is just “practice”, right?

This mindset, that college readiness is something that is only acquired at the high school level, is one of the primary reasons why many students are not graduating high school with the knowledge and skills that adequately prepare them for college. In reality, academic achievement earned by students in the elementary and middle school levels contribute more to college readiness than their achievements in high school. This is called The Forgotten Middle, a phrase coined by a published study by ACT, Inc., as it generally refers to the lack or absence of proactivity in earlier education resulting in reduced academic performance in higher levels of education.

An important note to consider is that students are not at fault for missing out on a strong elementary and middle school learning experience–much of the problem stems from the way that The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) allowed for states to “choose” what students had to score on their pre-high school standardized tests in order to be considered “proficient”, and therefore did not require improvement. In a publication by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, this phenomenon was named The Proficiency Illusion because students that are considered “proficient” in certain subjects according to their state tests may actually be deficient or lacking when viewed in a national context. The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, which ended the federal test-based accountability system, has since replaced NCLB.

In short, the philosophy that elementary and middle school educations are no more than stepping stones to high school education must be retired. Instead, all levels of education, including the elementary and middle levels, are part of the same effort to ready students for further education. Cambridge Educational Services recognizes the emphasis that should be placed on a strengthening middle school education, and our middle school programs help students build essential skills through our powerful supplemental curriculum and diagnostic assessments. We know that the most successful strategy for building up college readiness is to have students establish behaviors that lead to successful academic performance earlier on, and ultimately to transform The Forgotten Middle into The Proactive Middle.

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Cambridge Educational Services, Inc. offers and scores tests from ACT, Inc., The College Board, and other testing companies. These are retired tests, intended for practice purposes only and not for official administration, and are based on high school curriculum as of the copyright dates of the tests. Cambridges products and services, including its score reports, are not approved or endorsed by ACT, Inc., The College Board, or the other companies that develop the tests, and Cambridge has no affiliation with any of those entities.