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New IES Guide Lays Out High Schools' Role in Promoting College-Going

What should high schools be doing to prepare students for college? Here's what a new research-based practice guide published by the federal Institute of Education Sciences suggests:

1) Offer courses that prepare students for college-level work;
2) Use assessments throughout the high schools years so that students will know early on how prepared they are for college-level work;
3) Recruit adults and peers to support students' postsecondary aspirations;
4) Prod and encourage students to take the necessary steps to search and apply to colleges; and
5) Find ways to help families become aware of financial-assistance opportunities for their college-going children.

None of this is rocket science, of course. What is unsettling, though, is how little research there is to back up a set of recommendations that most people would agree make good sense.

According to the practice guide, only the last two recommendations are backed by a level of research evidence that reaches the level of "moderate." The evidence levels for the first three recommendations were all judged to be "low" by the expert panel that developed the them. That doesn't suggest, by any means, that the recommendations are bad ideas—just that, in many cases, rigorous studies haven't been done to help us determine one way or the other.

The report, "Helping Students Navigate the Path to College: What High Schools Can Do," is the 11th in a series of practice guides published by the federal research agency. Falling somewhere between a consensus-panel report and a rigorous meta-analysis, they are meant to inform policymakers on best practices they can use until more definitive studies can be completed.

A nice feature of this report is a section of the appendix that rates the research evidence for specific programs, such as Gear Up or Upward Bound. Check it out.

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