Early Assessments and Transition Curricula: What States Can Do

Fay, Margaret; Barnett, Elisabeth; Trimble, Madeline Joy; Pheatt, Lara Elaine

Brief of report investigating the fact that too many students who graduate from high school are underprepared for college-level coursework. To address this problem, states are increasingly administering assessments in the 11th grade to measure students’ college readiness. Some states are also beginning to offer transition curricula, developed by secondary and postsecondary faculty, that are designed to help at-risk students avoid remediation and become better prepared for the challenges of college. Based largely on interviews with stakeholders in California, New York, Tennessee, and West Virginia, this report describes how these four states have developed initiatives related to early college readiness assessments and transition curricula. Leaders in each state have made particular choices in the design of each program, including what assessment to use; how to determine what level of performance on an assessment aligns with college-level expectations; whether transition curricula should focus on math, English, or both; and how students should be placed into transition courses. In comparing the development of these interventions across states, we identify several central challenges: Given that high school students will attend different colleges and pursue different college programs, how should college readiness be defined? Should transition curricula focus on having students pass remedial placement tests, or should the curricula cover a broader range of skills needed for success in college courses? Should transition courses be offered to all low-performing students or only those who are nearly college ready? While early college assessments and transition curricula are promising approaches for improving students’ college readiness, findings from our study suggest that strong collaboration between the K-12 and higher education sectors in developing these initiatives is essential for ensuring that the skills and knowledge taught and assessed in high school are well aligned with those needed for success in college. What is more, program designers need to carefully consider competing priorities concerning initiative goals, populations served, and course content. The study also suggests that state-level commitment to improving college readiness in the form of legislation may be helpful in building support and momentum for these initiatives. More research is needed on the impact of these two interrelated and relatively new interventions. CCRC plans to pursue additional research in the four states discussed in this report.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Community College Research Center
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
CCRC Brief
Published Here
February 13, 2014


This brief is based on a longer Community College Research Center (CCRC) report titled Reshaping the College Transition: Early College Readiness Assessments and Transition Curricula in Four States. A copy of this report can be found in Academic Commons at