September 15, 2011

Jefferson City - Lela is a high school senior who aspires to attend college. She's an "A" student with high ACT scores, advanced placement courses, excellent academic references and extracurricular activities. But until now, colleges and universities did not have a clear set of criteria to use in assessing the readiness of Lela and her fellow students to do college-level work.

The Missouri Department of Higher Education has announced that work on criteria that describe what it means to be college-ready has been completed by a higher education task force. The department worked closely with faculty and academic officers from public and private colleges and universities, as well as representatives from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and local school districts, to identify entry-level competencies for college-bound students.

Curriculum alignment was mandated by the Omnibus Higher Education Act, enacted by the Missouri General Assembly in 2007. The completed work on college entry-level competencies is expected to improve the alignment between high school and college, and among colleges and universities, and help students who aspire to go on to postsecondary education.

The competencies align with the Common Core State Standards for language arts and mathematics adopted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education last year. The release of the college-ready competencies was delayed until the higher education sector could analyze the Common Core State Standards to ensure the standards were consistent with the expectations of the state's public colleges and universities.

Commissioner of Higher Education David Russell said the effort to create the college entry-level competencies builds on the common core standards for high school students adopted by the State Board of Education.

"The alignment of the Common Core State Standards developed by DESE and the entry-level competencies established by higher education will make the transition from high school to college more efficient," Russell said. "Now students and their families will have a clearer understanding of the knowledge and skills needed in order to succeed in postsecondary education."

Competencies are defined in six areas of study: English and communications, science, mathematics, social science, foreign language, and arts and humanities. Workgroups comprised of experts from higher education and secondary schools developed the criteria for each of the areas of study. The competencies went through several revisions and reviews, including a period of public comment, before being approved by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education.

In addition to the entry-level competencies in the six study areas, the same process set exit-level competencies in 16 specific general education fields for students who have completed entry-level college courses.

Identifying college-level competencies is only part of the challenge for college administrators. Colleges and universities have lacked reliable tools to assess the level of knowledge college-bound students have acquired in high school. Missouri is participating in the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop tests that will measure college readiness before students leave high school. Those assessments are scheduled to be in place by the 2014-15 school year.

MDHE shared the criteria for college readiness developed for Missouri institutions with the national College Readiness Partnership. The partnership was created to ensure that higher education is involved in the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Russell said the Missouri college entry-level competencies should prove useful to the partnership as it continues to develop national standards for student readiness in the six key areas of study.