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College Readiness Needs to Go Beyond Content to Skill Sets, Researcher Says

Colleges need more information about incoming students to get a better sense of whether they are truly ready for higher education—not just to be admitted, but also have the skills to successfully complete a degree.

That's the argument that education professor David Conley makes in a new article published in the spring issue of the Journal of College Admission. Colleges, as well as students and teachers, would benefit from more and deeper measures of students' ability to learn new skills before they enter college, writes Conley, a professor at the University of Oregon and the CEO of the Educational Policy Improvement Center.

Conley calls for a "profile-based approach" to readiness that would include assessments of students' cognitive strategies, learning skills, and techniques, in addition to content. Students would submit ACT or SAT scores, along with ratings by teachers of their speaking, listening, research, and study skills, as well as their proficiency with technology, their persistence, and focus on goals.

"No capability or knowledge set is going to trump the ability to learn new skills" writes Conley. "Getting students ready to be true lifelong learners requires several components. Students will always need foundational knowledge, but they will increasingly need to develop tools for learning."

The current method of admissions review fails to connect students with the supports and resources students need to make a successful transition, Conley says. The new common-core assessments being developed by PARCC (the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium hold some potential as a starting point, they are not sufficient, he writes.

A Tough Sell?

Conley acknowledges a comprehensive approach would require more data and work, making it a tough sell. To help colleges cope with the complex information, the scores from the various sources would be placed on a common scale. The profile could also provide feedback with "actionable information" that points out improvement needs that could be addressed in high school, he writes. The hope is that the information might help students master the necessary skills before making the investment of time and money in college.

So important are these skills that Conley advocates they be called "metacognitive learning skills," rather than "noncognitive" skills in a commentary piece in Education Week earlier this year.

The current measures of college readiness have been virtually unchanged for 100 years, Conley argues, and schools should leverage the increasing amount of information available to help better prepare students, writes Conley.

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