The Readiness Indicators Of High School-Leavers To College Performance Success

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There is a significant lack of college readiness among high school students. There have been many identifiable causes for this lack of preparedness. One such cause is a lack of alignment between the high school curriculum and college level coursework. For my review, I searched for research instruments that look at academic performance in high school, as it relates to college preparedness. Keywords used were college readiness, curriculum alignment, high school GPA and college performance.

Academic preparedness refers to academic knowledge and skills that students need to succeed in doing college-level work, in other words – to be “college ready.” There is a substantial, yet undeniable, differences between being eligible for college and being ready for college. We witness these differences each semester as advisors to first year college students. Students graduate high school with enough credits to register for college, but still lack the academic skills and/or study habits, to succeed. Across America, students increasingly leave high school unready for college (Choy, Horn, Nuñez, & Chen, 2000; Jackson, 2009). Some studies estimate that only ten percent of eighth graders are on a path to graduate from high school without the need for remedial work in college (Wimberly & Noeth, 2005). America’s public universities are investing in upwards of one billion dollars annually to remediate at least one-third of their freshman population (Bettinger & Long, 2009). Studies show that the following K-12 academic indicators can predict college attendance: 1) standardized test participation and scores; 2) courses taken; and 3) course performance, including GPA. Beyond the need for students to simply be prepared for the rigors of the college classroom, the ability to produce college-ready students carries significant social and economic consequences in the United States. Based on that sobering reality, it is imperative that we find ways to bridge this gap. In this literature review, I examine findings on college readiness, as it relates to academic preparedness in the high school classroom.

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The first identified indicator for successful college attendance is standardized test participation and the scores of those tests. Research conducted by Avery and Kane (2004) analyzed participants in a college outreach program. Their research suggested that students who completed major testing milestones by fall of their senior year of high school were more likely to attend a four-year college. It was determined that students with ACT scores above 18 were more likely to enroll in college than students with lower scores. Like ACTs, SATs also predict similar postsecondary outcomes. While test scores are a key identifying factor in college enrollment, one major issue that has been identified is that state tests are often not aligned with college standards. Brown and Conley (2007) analyzed the content of state tests relative to academic standards and skills necessary for entry-level postsecondary courses and discovered that 60 math and English secondary assessments from 20 states were only marginally aligned with postsecondary standards.

The second identified indicator for successful college attendance is courses taken at the high school level. Studies have found that providing more rigorous courses during the high school years can influence students’ college readiness (Herlihy, 2007; Lee & Burkham, 2000). Things such as enrollment in Advance Placement (AP) courses predicts higher levels of college enrollment. For instance, Leonard (2010) showed that, when lower-performing students enter college with college credits including AP courses, they prove less likely to need remediation. Among other indicators, completing a course and taking the exam was the most significant indicator of postsecondary attendance (Dougherty, Mellor & Jian, 2006). Students entering college having passed AP exams often had higher first-year GPAs than those students entering college with dual or no college credit (Elmers & Mullen, 2003). Because of these findings, many school districts are drastically increasing AP course taking, with the unfortunate result of watered down content of the courses which, in turn, reduces their accuracy as determining factors of college readiness (Conley, 2007). Based on such conerns, it is critical that schools monitor their own effectiveness in supporting college readiness. Course performance, especially extremely poor performance, predicts college outcomes (Geiser & Santelices, 2007; Kane, 2002; Noble & Sawyer, 2004). Failures in core courses are frequently a key indicator of future academic problems.

The final identified indicator for successful college attendance is actual course performance and GPA. GPA proves a strong predictor of both college achievement and persistence (Geiser & Santelices, 2007; Noble & Sawyer, 2004). A study conducted in the University of California system showed that GPA was the best predictor of achievement during freshman year (Geiser & Santelices, 2007). High school GPA was also a better predictor of college GPA than ACT scores for students with lower grades (Noble & Sawyer, 2004). A word of caution that has been noted in research is that, like AP courses, GPA has lost true power to predict student outcomes due to grade inflation intended to facilitate students’ admission to college (Conley, 2007). For instance, a “B” today is the equivalent of a “C” thirty years ago. This goes along with all of the research that indicates that grades are rising as many other measures of college readiness decline (Conley, 2007). In addition, research shows that grading standards vary significantly not only among schools and districts, but also among teachers within a school (Nunley, Shartle-Galotto, & Smith).

Research suggests that grades and GPA are a much better indicator than standardized test scores because grades capture students’ effort and study skills Grade-point average factors in, not only academic skills, but a variety of non-cognitive factors, like motivation, that are vital to postsecondary achievement (Kaplan, D.S., Peck, & Kaplan, 1997; Kennely & Monrad, 2007). Further, grades allowed students, including those from populations considered at risk of not attending college, to demonstrate perseverance, which correlated with success in postsecondary settings (Dille & Mezack, 1991).


  1. Achieve. (2011). Closing the Expectations Gap: 6th Annual 50-State Progress Report on the Alignment of High School Policies with the Demands of College and Careers. Washington, DC: Achieve, American Diploma Project Network.
  2. Avery, C., & Kane, T.J. (2004). Student Perceptions of College Opportunities. The Boston COACH Program. In C. Hoxby (Ed.), College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay for It (pp. 355-394). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  3. Bettinger, E.P., & Long, B.T. (2009). Addressing the needs of under-prepared students in higher education: Does college remediation work? Journal of Human Resources.
  4. Brown, R.S., & Conley, D. (2007). Comparing state high school assessments to standards for success in entry-level university courses. Educational Assessment 12(2), 137-60.
  5. Choy, S. P., Horn, L. J., Nuñez, A. M., & Chen, X. (2000). Transition to college: What helps at risk students and students whose parents did not attend college. New Directions for Institutional Research, 2000, 107, 45–63.
  6. Conley, D. T. (2007a). College Readiness Practices at 38 High Schools and the Development of the College Career Ready School Diagnostic Tool. Eugene, OR: Education Policy Improvement Center.
  7. Conley, D. T. (2007b). Redefining College Readiness, Vol. 3. Eugene, OR: Education Policy Improvement Center.
  8. Conley, D. T. (2008). Rethinking college readiness. New Directions for Higher Education, 144, 3–13.
  9. Dougherty, C., Mellor, L., & Jian, S. (2006). The Relationship between Advanced Placement and College Graduation. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Accountability.
  10. Dille, B., & Mezack, M. (1991). Identifying predictors of high risk among community college telecourse students. American Journal of Distance Education, 5(1), 24-35.
  11. Elmers, M.T., & Mullen, R. (2003). Dual credit and advanced placement: Do they help prepare students for success in college?
  12. Geiser, S., & Santelices, M.C. (2007). Validity of High-school Grades in Predicting Student Success Beyond the Freshman Year: High-School Record vs. Standardized Tests as Indicators of Four-Year College Outcomes. Berkeley, CA: University of California, Center for Studies in Higher Education..
  13. Herlihy, C. (2007). State and district-level supports for successful transition into high school. Washington, DC: National High School Center.
  14. Jackson, C. K. (2009). A stitch in time: Evaluating the effects of an AP incentive program on college outcomes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.
  15. Kennelly, L., & Monrad, M. (2007). Approaches to dropout prevention: Heeding early warning signs with appropriate interventions. Washington, DC: National High School Center, American Institutes for Research.
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The Readiness Indicators Of High School-Leavers To College Performance Success. (2021, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from
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