No agreement on what’s ‘college ready’

If a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in college English, does that mean she’s college ready? College and K-12 leaders couldn’t agree at a Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers ( PARCC) meeting. One of two federally funded state assessment consortia, PARCC is working on tests linked to the new Common Core Standards.

The draft discussed at the June 20 meeting would deem “college ready” students who scored at “Level 4” or above on a five-level test. Level 4 would be pegged to the “proficient” level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and be set so that 75 percent of students who reached that level would earn Cs in entry-level, credit-bearing courses in English composition and literature, or college algebra and introductory statistics.

For the 11th grade test, scoring at Level 5 would mean that students are “very likely to succeed” in those courses, and scoring a 4 would mean they are “likely to succeed,” according to the draft statement. Those who score 3s “may succeed,” while 2s are “unlikely to succeed and 1s “very unlikely” to do so.

Some argued C is not a measure of college success.  Others want to eliminate the “may succeed” level.

PARCC hopes colleges will use the test instead of placement tests to determine whether students can start in college-level courses.

About Joanne


  1. A “C” in a math course is not the same thing as one in an English course. I would set the bar higher in courses with more lenient grading standards, at a B-.

  2. A College Ready student (IMO) should be able to handle the following coursework with at least a grade of “C” or higher (first year):

    English 101/102
    Biology (General/Plant/Animal)
    Political Science 101/102 or History (101/102)
    Math (Algebra/Trig/Finite/Pre-Calc) or Calculus
    Sociology/Psychology 101
    Econ 101/102
    Philosophy 101/102 (or intro to logic)

    Note, these are for the most part core classes which all college students should need to take and pass in order to be admitted to a major or field of study.

    If they can’t handle this coursework, they’ll need to reconsider admission until they can handle it.

    • Valid points, Bill. The gen ads are the basic benchmarks, and they are there for a reason. While many students do deserve to “pass out” of these requirements as a result of CE/AP/IB work in high school, the average college student should be able to handle these gen ads with at least B- competency.

      • Intro science and math courses often set the median grade to a C+ as a way of weeding out students, so it seems unduly harsh to expect a B- in those.

        • There’s no reason for a course with established criteria for success to be graded on a curve.  An excellent class may have 90% passing, an abysmal class may have 10%; so long as the material and the standards for testing whether it has been learned are the same, there’s nothing wrong with them.

  3. The leading flunk out course for freshman is Comp 101 – or some equivalent of reading and writing for the college level. Students who do not have the reading and writing skills to access and write about college level texts will fail. So, that’s really the basic requirement for college readiness. David Connely’s book on “College Knowledge” and his work for Pew are great places to start, and I think they’ve nailed it in this area.

  4. Only an Education major would consider a C to be a success in college. Every academic knows that a C is a polite way of brushing off marginal students without interrupting the revenue stream–and at the same time rendering them ineligible for any serious graduate school. I flatly tell my students that a C means “don’t take any more courses in my department, because you won’t be so lucky next time.”

    • “I flatly tell my students that a C means ‘don’t take any more courses in my department, because you won’t be so lucky next time.'”

      I actually found the grading in the upper courses to be quite a bit more lenient than the grading in the intro classes. The intro classes had the median set to a C+, while the higher level classes typically had it set to a B or even B+. I got a C in one of my intro classes (I ended up retaking for a B), a B in the next course in the sequence, and A- or A in all the rest of the classes because the grading was a lot easier since the department wasn’t trying to weed out large numbers of students.