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Nonprofit Calls for Schools to Make College Readiness Focus of Senior Year

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Is it time to rethink the 12th grade?

Jobs for the Future thinks so. The national nonprofit is calling for major changes to the senior year of high school.

"High schools really at this point in their history and at this point in terms of policy are not held accountable for much more than graduating students," said Joel Vargas, the group's vice president of school and learning designs.

Vargas thinks high schools should be doing a lot more, particularly when it comes to preparing students for college and careers. He points to the number of students who graduate from high school and are forced to take developmental, or remedial, classes because they're not ready for college-level work. And that can lengthen the time it takes - and the cost - for students to earn a college degree.

"Complete College America estimates that 52 percent of the students who enter two-year colleges around the country start in developmental ed," said Vargas. "Not many students get out of that. Only 22 percent of those students ever complete the associated college-credit bearing courses within two years of entering college."

He says the numbers aren't much better for students who require remedial education at four-year colleges, and the need for these courses illustrates a lack of coordination between high schools and higher education.

Jobs for the Future would like to see the day when no high school graduate requires remedial courses. The group's goal is that by the time a student has finished the first year of college he or she has completed what some call a college-level gatekeeper course. Think English composition or college algebra.

"Those courses are really the gateway to degrees or credentials," said Vargas. "Research has shown that it's no guarantee of finishing college, but it's a pretty good momentum point."

For this to happen, Vargas says, high schools and colleges have to work together, although he admits the proposition might be tough for some educators to wrap their minds around.

"Our education systems are organized to be separate," said Vargas. "They're funded separately. People have their jobs and roles and identities in being a high-school educator or a college educator."

 But he points out that there's not much difference between a high school senior and a first-year college student.

"You're talking about young people who are, developmentally speaking, really the same person," said Vargas. "It's just a few months later. They have the same developmental needs."

So what would it take for these two groups to work together? Vargas says both sides should share their expectations for students and then co-design, co-deliver, and co-validate educational experiences for all seniors.

"In order to do that well, it's going to take all sorts of different support systems," said Vargas.

He says these systems should not only be academic in nature but should also help seniors develop good study skills and problem-solving skills in order to succeed in college.

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