Researcher discusses strongest indicators of college readiness

Solid academic performance doesn’t alone ensure college readiness, even as measured by SAT tests, the benchmark most admissions offices use. Research shows academic achievement carries only about 25% of the weight among six factors that are key to student preparation, educators learned at a November workshop that the Consortium co-hosted with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory (REL).

The workshop was the first of two that are designed to help educators identify and assess the soft skills that are most critical to post-secondary success. Along with academic achievement, the factors that influence students’ college readiness are behavior; motivation; social engagement; characteristics of the schools they attend; and their families’ socio-economic circumstance.

No single one of those factors comes close to academics, said Matthew Gaertner, PhD, Director of Research for WestEd’s Standards, Assessment and Accountability Services program. But in studies of college readiness among 8th graders, behavior and motivation each are significant indicators and together are “a very powerful indicator” of readiness, he added.

Using a scale that ranges from well-prepared to inadequately prepared, only 9 percent of 8th graders nationwide are well-prepared while some 40 percent are inadequately prepared, Gaertner noted.

Educators have become more focused on soft skills because they factor into new state standards for college and career readiness. Measuring career readiness, however, is more complicated than measuring college readiness, Gaertner said, noting that there’s no single definition of success once students enter the working world.

Despite that, employers generally agree that soft skills play a key role in readiness for the workplace. That’s why educators attending the workshop all said their schools are trying to find ways to incorporate opportunities for students to develop them during their classes. At an upcoming workshop, they’ll hear about ways to assess soft skills.