Testing can tell if students need help before college and career

THE outlook for opportunities for highly skilled workers in Washington state is as strong as ever. Currently there are 25,000 unfilled jobs for highly skilled workers — and that number is projected to grow to 50,000 by 2017.

To ensure all students are ready for success and take advantage of these opportunities, Washington’s K-12 learning standards were established. Common Core State Standards are part of this and used for math and English language arts. The Smarter Balanced assessment system, administered in grades three through eight and 11, is aligned to the standards. It provides a way for teachers to measure student progress and make adjustments and interventions as necessary to ensure students are on the pathway to success.

There are four score levels. Students who score a 3 or 4 are on target to be college and career ready by the end of 12th grade and, due to an innovative placement agreement in our state, can avoid remedial courses in our postsecondary system, saving money and time.

However, 11th graders who score a 1 or 2 are below college ready and will need to work hard to prepare, and they may also have to take remedial courses in college, costing them time and money.

That’s where Bridge to College transition courses come in. With the support of a grant from College Spark Washington, Bridge to College transition courses are being offered in math and English language arts. The courses are being developed and refined by high school teachers and college faculty under the leadership of the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges and are currently being piloted in 37 school districts across the state. They are full-credit, one-year courses taught during the school day.

Bridge to College courses provide high school seniors a second chance and extra help to get up to speed to succeed in college-level work. Students who earn a B grade or above will be considered college-ready and eligible to enroll in credit-bearing college math and English at all participating Washington higher-education institutions (currently the 34 community and technical colleges).

Avoiding remediation, especially in math, is a key predictor of whether a student will earn a college degree. Students who enroll in college-level math immediately upon entering college are far more likely to go on to earn a college degree than students who need to first take remediation courses.

It’s also important to note that the courses will help students who aren’t planning on attending college. The Smarter Balanced tests are designed for college and career readiness, and a score of 1 or 2 indicates that a student needs further help, no matter what his or her path may be.

While a few 11th graders are grappling with refusal to take the test, we caution that today’s students are entering a globally competitive world requiring more skills and knowledge than ever before. The state’s students need to be prepared before they get to college to reach the end goal of a degree and filling those high-skilled jobs.

Giving students extra academic supports would accelerate their progress into college-level work and greatly increase their likelihood of success in college. Let’s give students the tools, such as the Bridge to College transition courses, to help reduce the cost of higher education and the need for remediation and increase the likelihood of success in college.

Information in this article, originally published April 27, 2015, was corrected April 29, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Smarter Balanced assessment was administered in grades three, eight and 11. The test is given to students in grades three through eighth and 11th.