Research: what students need to know

While preparing all students for postsecondary success is a relatively new challenge, a growing body of research shows us what students need to do to be prepared.  It is summarized in a simple acronym: Rigor-Access-Motivation-Persistence:

Rigor

College readiness means preparation to handle the higher expectations, faster pacing and deeper thinking skills needed in college courses.  Dr. Clifford Adelman, a senior associate with the Institute for Higher Education Policy, conducted research showing dramatic gains in college success from taking rigorous high school courses, especially for students of color and low-income students.  Research conducted by Dr. David Conley of the University of Oregon’s Educational Policy Improvement Center, digs into the necessary content knowledge beyond course names and identifies “writing skills, algebraic concepts, key foundational content and ‘big ideas’ from core subjects” as essential knowledge needed for postsecondary success, along with key cognitive strategies: analytic reasoning, problem solving, inquisitiveness, precision, interpretation and evaluating claims.

A working group of the Minnesota P-20 Education Partnership, consisting of a wide cross-section of K12 and postsecondary educators, employers, policy makers, and parents researched and deliberated for over a year to define ‘college and career readiness’ for Minnesota. Their report, called a Roadmap to College and Career Readiness (download PDF).

Access

Surveys consistently show that many students, and their parents, do not know what college admission requirements involve, what kind of financial aid is available, and that non-selective schools still have academic placement requirements.  David Conley’s extensive research on what students need to be college ready also identifies what he calls ‘contextual skills and awareness’ as critical. This includes understanding the postsecondary educational system, the norms and values of the academic world and the human relations skills necessary to interact within this system. Contextual awareness also includes ‘college knowledge’, formal and informal knowledge about the admissions process, academic and testing requirements, types of colleges, tuition, placement and levels of challenge.cit..

Motivation

Every student needs a vision of his or her future that can motivate hard work in school. A motivated student often develops a personal sense of direction and purpose, and channels the motivation towards a particular outcome.  If students recognize why they should aim for success in school, understand the relevance of their academic classes, and know that they will benefit from their effort, they will be motivated to achieve college readiness.  Schools not only affect student investment, they can cause it, especially for students from low-income backgrounds.  Postsecondary plans have been shown to have positive effects on student outcomes.

Persistence

We know that getting to college – especially for a student from a non-college-experienced family – takes incredible persistence. To get through those challenges, students not only have to want to go to college, they have to believe they can achieve the goal. When students believe they are able to shape desired outcomes, they are more focused on tasks, cope better in the face of challenge and are likely to persevere after experiencing a set back or failure.

Mindset greatly influences academic success. Students (and their teachers) who have a fixed mindset believe their abilities are set in stone, while those with a growth mindset believe they can improve their knowledge and skills with effort. Research conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, demonstrated that students with a growth mindset showed improvement in their grades during junior high, while those with a fixed mindset did not.