What Is College and Career Readiness in Science?

By Erik W. Robelen — January 16, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With all the talk in education circles these days about “college and career readiness,” it may come as little surprise that the issue is now being raised in the context of the common standards for science under development.

In fact, an appendix to the draft of the Next Generation Science Standards issued last week takes a stab at defining the concept. The document suggests that while college and career readiness (CCR) may be familiar terrain in math and English/language arts, that’s not the case for science.

To address the matter, the nonprofit group Achieve (which is helping to oversee development of the new science standards) convened experts in scientific disciplines, science education, and workforce readiness to explore the matter. They sought to take into account the context provided as a result of the common-core standards, while “acknowledging the unique nature of science and its increasingly critical role in the future of our society and economy,” the appendix says.

The draft identifies five dimensions of CCR. Students who are college- and career-ready in science can demonstrate evidence of:

  • Applying a blend of science and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas to make sense of the world and approach problems not previously encountered by the student, new situations, new phenomena, and new information.
  • Carrying out self-directed planning, monitoring, and evaluation.
  • Applying knowledge more flexibly across various disciplines through the continual exploration of science and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.
  • Employing valid and reliable research strategies.
  • Exhibiting evidence of the effective transfer of mathematics and disciplinary literacy skills to science.

This definition is based on several assumptions, the appendix explains, including that learning expectations are equivalent for college and career and that a student is ready to enter and succeed in coursework beyond high school in science and technical subjects that leads to a degree or credential. This includes readiness for the military and credentialing that may occur during high school, such as through dual-enrollment and Advanced Placement programs.

I should note that one thorny issue around college and career readiness is the blending of those two dimensions into one definition. In other words, does someone really need the same skills and knowledge for a career as for college? (The draft references a definition of “career ready” from the common core that is focused on “preparation for entry-level positions in quality jobs and career pathways that often require further education and training.”) Suffice to say that some experts have questioned this premise. My colleague and co-blogger Catherine Gewertz has explored this issue from time to time on this blog. In fact, last summer she described a meeting around the development of common assessments where the discussion was ostensibly on both college AND career readiness, but virtually all the conversation was squarely about college preparation.

Leaving that issue aside, the appendix points to some significant differences between CCR in science, and in math and English/language arts. It notes that research on the latter is “quite robust,” but it is “still primitive” when it comes to the former content.

In fact, one challenge for science is that some measures often used for defining CCR don’t apply in this subject. The appendix says that with the Common Core State Standards, “college ready” indicated preparation for credit-bearing coursework in two- or four-year institutions without the need for remediation and with a strong chance for earning credit toward a degree.

So, what’s the problem? For one, there are very few remediation courses for science in universities, colleges, and technical schools, the appendix explains. Most students enroll straight away in credit-bearing courses in science because there are no real alternatives. Also, most postsecondary options don’t include a placement test to determine the appropriate level of science course to enroll in. Furthermore, the role of science in college and careers is changing “dramatically,” the appendix says.

As I noted on this blog the other day, on the college side, the appendix makes clear that higher education is moving beyond an emphasis on learning content. “A transformation in college science education is under way, informed by how students learn,” it says. [W]hat is taught will be much more than content. College science and engineering education will tend toward disciplinary intersections, focus on core concepts, and integrate practices into instruction.”

As with the latest draft standards themselves, the appendix on college and career readiness (one of 11 appendices!) is also considered a draft, and organizers tell me they are inviting feedback to help revise it. So if you have opinions on the topic, there’s still time to weigh in.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.