This blog post originally appeared in the Data Quality Campaign’s blog, The Flashlight.


“How will I know if my child is ready for college?”

This is a question I heard a few weeks ago from a parent in a rural part of Tennessee. It is a question that I hear quite often when I speak to groups across the Volunteer State, and a question I often struggle to answer. When confronted with the sobering data about student preparedness for postsecondary education, parents want to know how and when they will know their child is prepared for the future. And they should know.

What makes this so challenging is the fact that parents are often overwhelmed with data that point to different outcomes. In Tennessee, the high school graduation rate is 85.5 percent. Perceptions and expectations from parents and communities often focus on a high school diploma as the ticket to postsecondary education. Yet over 70 percent of college freshman at public universities in Tennessee take remedial coursework. These students have graduated from high school, yet they aren’t prepared.

In addition, only 16 percent of Tennessee’s high school graduates are prepared for college, as measured across all four ACT college-readiness benchmarks (English, math, reading, and science). Add in student data from state standardized tests SCOREs, student report cards, AP SCOREs, value-added projections, aggregate-level data from national achievement results, and international achievement data, and it’s no wonder that parents are unsure about their own child’s readiness.

Ultimately, these data points are incredibly important. They provide teachers, parents, and policymakers with clear markers of progress, which can be used to differentiate instruction, identify struggling students, and chart improvement, among other things. But communicating what these data mean and how they all fit together to paint a picture of a child’s preparedness is vital. Parents should be empowered with these data, not confused.

There is an opportunity ahead. The common assessments that are currently being developed, aligned with the Common Core State Standards, have the potential to provide parents with data that are grounded in high academic standards, can be compared across states, and measure critical thinking and problem solving—the kinds of skills students need in postsecondary education and the workforce.

“How will I know if my child is ready for success after high school?” This is a question that all advocates of improving public education should have a better handle on answering. If our goal is for every student to graduate prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce, let’s make sure parents are equipped to answer it, too.