Accountable for grade 13

High School’s Last Test is how well graduates do in college, write J.B. Schramm and E. Kinney Zalesne of College Summit in a New York Times op-ed.  Race To The Top guidelines tell high schools to “show how they increase both college enrollment and the number of students who complete at least a year of college.”

Most schools, districts and states are just starting to collect data on “grade 13,” they write. The Department of Education will require states to keep good records of graduates’ progress in college.

But what’s critical is that the Education Department also helps high school principals and teachers learn to use their data to improve student achievement — to find out which of their educational strategies actually result in student success after high school.

We are a long, long way from tracking high school graduates’ progress. In fact, we’re not good at tracking students through the K-12 system either.  But it sure would be nice to know how well high schools are preparing students for higher education — and employment.

About Joanne


  1. Some people think that everyone should go to college. I’m not one of those people. Trying to get everyone to go to college is a one-way trip to Failureville.

    The plumber who fixed my sink yesterday didn’t go to college, but his work cost me more than a day’s pay.

  2. ACT has published extensively on this with the focus on college graduation. Rigor matters, and the more the better. The main result is that high school students must take Physics, Biology, & Chemistry and the more math the better. Each math course completed at a rigorous level increases the probability of graduating college.

    Yes, we can spend hundred of millions of dollars getting better data systems, won’t change a thing. We all know what’s needed.

    IMHO: 1) the Newsweek Challenge Index with a tweak for the three science classes will give the highest correlation with college graduation. 2) Letting weaker students take Earth Science or Integrated Science in ninth grade is almost equivalent to putting a knife in their backs, if you want them to succeed in college later. A more fruitful approach is to either offer Ninth Grade Physics (see CPO First Year Physics) or an appropriate Chemistry course (see KeyPress Living by Chemistry) so that AP Chemistry can be taken in another year and/or Biology offered at a more rigorous level. These ideas are very, very unpopular with admin/staff/teachers. Public ed is what it is. 3) Geometry is only weakly correlated with college graduation. Making it an elective math course and requiring Algebra 1 and 2 be mastered would probably work better for weaker students, but I cannot back that up like items 1 & 2 above.

  3. It all starts in kindergarten: structure, self-control, work ethic, concentration, explicit instruction and a good curriculum. That means phonics, spelling, grammar, composition, arithmetic, geography, science and history – all with an emphasis on mastery. End social promotion and encourage acceleration. High school is too late to fix the problems of poor reading and math skills.

  4. I think the Challenge Index is a fraud; only if a kid scores at least a 3 on the AP test should he be counted as taking an AP course and the Index should be weighted with regard to 3 vs. 4 vs. 5 on the test. There are too many situations where classes are labelled AP but the kids either never take the test or they don’t pass it.

  5. “But it sure would be nice to know how well high schools are preparing students for college . . .” Yes, but I’m not sure it’s nice to ask. Does a graduate of a high school have an obligation to supply information a year afterwards? That seems too intrusive to me. Will there be stakes attached to the results? Don’t we have a mountain of evidence by now that high stakes assessments are an invitation to abuse of the reporting system. I don’t like a system that motivates everyone to jump through hoops, fend off blame, and engage in a lot of pretense.

    And preparation for college is certainly not the only job of a high school. I don’t like the smell of all this.

  6. Phillip Gonring says:

    This is a trend in the right direction. But as the standards movement will not reach its logical conclusion until students are held accountable for their test results, we won’t get a complete accountability system here until colleges and universities are held accountable too — perhaps exit exams as we see in European systems.

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    Dennis Ashendorf,

    Taking a lot of rigorous math in high school correlates with success in college. Playing high school basketball correlates with height. But no one would think to say that the way to make people taller is to make them play basketball. People who are going to do well in college because they are motivated, have good work habits, accept a challenge, and are fairly bright are the ones who take a lot of rigorous math in high school.

    But the math courses don’t make them succeed any more than playing basketball makes people tall. The causation largely goes the other way.

    Making more people take rigorous math in high school isn’t going to do much good at all.

  8. Dear Mr. Sweeny,

    I teach math and science at a continuation high school. You are preaching to the choir, but I also see the old Ken Kesey maxim: “You’re either on the bus or off the bus.”

    We must strive to keep people on the difficult road for as long as possible. This is a difficult judgment and policy works poorly here. Pressing students to achieve has value, but letting them succeed differently (where I come in) when they leave the road is vital and humane. More students graduate because of me than any other teacher by far in my district. Very, very few finish college. That’s ok, but schools need to strive to keep students from my off-road. The Challenge Index using AP probably is the best way to push the system to keep students on the road.

    Merry Christmas!

  9. Dear Mom of 4,

    Obviously the Challenge Index is far from perfect, but only about 6% of schools even come close to it! If 90% of the schools were on it, then scamming it would have to be thwarted.

    Let’s just try to get people to use it. It’s easy to understand, and the other indicators I encounter are not even understood. In California, ask what API and AYP even mean. The only way people use to improve them is to teach multiple-choice questions daily. Is API and AYP better – more accurate. Come’on. Don’t let a “false best” be the enemy of the better.

    Best wishes,

  10. Roger Sweeny says:


    If you can get students to “accept the challenge” who wouldn’t before, God bless you.

    What is a “continuation high school”? I’m guessing it’s a school for people who have dropped out and then decided that they want a degree but don’t want to go back to the place they came from.

  11. Dear Mr. Sweeney,

    Yes, I keep “dropouts” in school, and the Challenge probably isn’t for them. The idea is to encourage students to take AP classes as part of the school culture.

    Rigor is hard to spread. I appreciate your care.



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