Strengthening the Road to College

California’s College Readiness Standards and Lessons from District Leaders
Strengthening the Road to College
Sherrie Reed Bennett
University of California, Davis
Michal Kurlaender
University of California, Davis
Scott Carrell
University of California, Davis


During the past decade, education leaders and policymakers have made significant investments to better align California’s K-12 and postsecondary education systems and to address persistent disparities in educational attainment by race and socioeconomic status. This report distills important lessons emerging from these efforts, integrating the analysis of statewide quantitative data used by policymakers, education leaders, and higher education systems to evaluate students’ postsecondary readiness and interviews of district leaders about their specific efforts to improve students’ college readiness, access, and success.

  • District leaders view college and career readiness synonymously—preparing students for college and career require the same activities and expectations.
  • Based on the College/Career Indicator (CCI)—the primary measure of high school quality on the California School Dashboard—42 percent of the 2017-18 public high school graduates were prepared for college and/or career.
  • District leaders underscore that rigorous academic preparation is crucial to future college success.
    • Education leaders rate A-G courses—required for meeting admissions eligibility to the University of California and California State University— as a primary tool for preparing students for college, yet only 40 percent of 2017-18 graduates completed A-G coursework.
    • District leaders view Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, and career technical education as critical to preparing students for college and important components of their equity agenda.
  • District leaders believe that participation and performance on college admissions exams (SAT or ACT), as well as college enrollment, are key indicators of college readiness, despite their exclusion in the CCI.
    • 45 percent of 2017-18 graduates took the SAT exam during high school.
    • 63 percent of public high school graduates enroll in college after high school.
  • Substantial inequality exists across all measures of college and career readiness by racial/ethnic subgroups, socioeconomically disadvantaged (SED) status, and for students who are English learners.
  • Most districts engage students in college readiness activities from an early age.
    • Leaders emphasize rigorous coursework in the early and middle grades.
    • Many districts administer the PSAT in 8th, 9th, and 10th grades as an early assessment of college readiness, to inform course placement, and prepare students for high-stakes assessments.
    • Counselors are essential for ensuring that students have the information and knowledge to successfully navigate the transition from high school to college.
  • District leaders believe supporting postsecondary success among their students requires engaging students’ families and the broader community.
Suggested citationReed, S., Kurlaender, M., & Carrell, S. (2019, November). Strengthening the road to college: California’s college readiness standards and lessons from district leaders [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.