Chapter Introduction

The main goal of both elementary and secondary education is to successfully prepare students for college and the workforce. Unfortunately, less than 30% of college professors believe that public school adequately prepares students for college and an estimated 41% of college students have to take at least one remedial course upon entering college (Achieve, 2005; NCES 2004). Likewise, too few students who enter the workforce right after high school have the job readiness and occupational skills that they need to gain access to more stable, higher paying jobs.

There are several measures an educator can use to monitor if a student has the competencies and skills for success in higher education and beyond. Algebra enrollment and course completion have been identified by researchers as early indicators of success in the upper levels of math both at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Several states also use a high performance on state standardized tests as an indicator of college readiness. There are several national exams that are administered from the 8th through 10th grade levels to prepare students for success on college entrance exams, including ACT’s EXPLORE® and PLAN® programs and the College Board’s PSAT/NMQST® exam. A student’s score on these early tests helps provide educators early indicators in several key areas: scores can identify students who have potential for enrollment in advanced courses, and scores can also identify areas where students need focused intervention in order to perform well on college entrance exams. The SAT® and ACT® are the most widely  accepted college entrance exams. While the SAT® is more of a reasoning test, assessing how well students apply the subject matter and skills they have learned in high school with a mandatory writing section, the ACT® is curriculum-based with questions directly related to high school courses in english, math, reading and science, with an optional writing assessment. Measures that track postsecondary success, such as first year success, grades and credits, and completion rates, will demonstrate that students are not only profiled as college ready, but actually have the skills to thrive in a postsecondary environment. Aggregated at the campus and district level, educators can use this information to target patterns of weakness in college preparation as well as scale areas of success. Although all students should have the skills necessary to enter college, not all students will choose to do so. It is therefore important for schools to have necessary programs to help prepare students who want to earn professional and technical certifications. 

Collectively, these indicators give educators a clear picture of whether or not students are prepared to meet and exceed the challenges of a postsecondary education and beyond. 

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College Entrance Exams

The SAT and ACT are the two most widely-accepted college entrance exams in the United States. Combined with a student's academic record, college admission tests are used to gauge a student’s college readiness and likelihood of college success. The SAT test is more of a reasoning test, assessing how well students apply the subject matter and skills they have learned in high school. It includes three components: critical reading, mathematics and writing. The ACT is curriculum-based with questions directly related to high school courses in English, math, reading and science, with an optional writing assessment. Both the SAT and ACT are offered several times per year and are typically taken beginning in the eleventh grade.  

Monitoring students’ completion of and performance on the SAT and/or ACT is important for several reasons:

  • Most colleges and universities require applicants to take an entrance exam like the SAT or ACT.
  • Taking the SAT or ACT gives students access to scholarship opportunities.
  • The SAT and ACT provides students and educators with comprehensive performance feedback on college readiness.

Research Highlights

For additional information on the

Campus Dashboard Metrics

Because of the importance of entrance exams to college acceptance, many school districts across the nation, including Chicago, Charlotte, Dallas and New York, have incorporated metrics on SAT and ACT performance into their internal performance management dashboards. In addition, during focus groups conducted with over 2,000 educators throughout Texas, the College Readiness: Entrance Exams metric, as presented in screenshots of the campus dashboard, was considered useful by 95 percent of those surveyed.

Primary Metric

  • College Readiness: Entrance Exams: percent of students completing the SAT and ACT with average score among students completing each test. 

How to Use the Metric

The SAT/ACT Performance metric at the student level allows educators to easily identify students who require support in either completing or performing well on a college entrance exam, a prerequisite for acceptance to most colleges and universities. At the campus level, aggregated data on the percentage of students who have taken an entrance exam and average exam scores allow campus leaders to evaluate school-wide efforts by individual teachers and counselors to increase SAT/ACT completion and performance and thus college readiness. Campus leaders may also view college entrance exam completion and performance by key subpopulations and generate lists of eligible students who have not taken an exam in order to work collaboratively with teachers and counselors to support individual students or groups of students in registering and preparing for a test. 

Ideally, campus leaders, teachers and counselors should review college entrance exam data on a monthly basis to ensure timely identification of students in need of support. The tests are offered several times per year, creating multiple intervention opportunities for educators.

Metric Specifications

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High School Graduation Plan


All state education agencies establish graduation requirements for students attending public high schools within the state.  These requirements typically encompass both the quantity (i.e., units or credits) to be completed as well as the quality (i.e., subject area and rigor) of courses to be successfully completed by each student for a particular type of diploma, or graduation plan.  Individual school districts may also impose additional graduation requirements beyond those set by the state.  Multiple graduation requirements necessitate close monitoring of student-level credit accumulation and course failures, ensuring students are both enrolling and succeeding in a sufficient number of eligible classes, starting in the ninth grade.  As discussed in the previous sections the number of credits earned, type of credits, and grades in those courses are contributing factors for postsecondary success as well as at-risk indicators for dropping out (ACT, 2005; Allensworth & Easton, 2005; Allensworth & Easton, 2007; NCES, 2005).

How to Use the Metric

The High School Graduation Plan metric provides educators with a quick status check on whether or not a student has sufficient credits, as of the prior year-end, to meet the credit requirements of their intended graduation plan.  Any student with a shortfall between credits earned and credits required for their plan is immediately flagged to alert educators that prompt intervention and support are needed.  Having readily identified students who are behind, educators can then review student academic history (with detailed course, credit and grade information for current and prior years) to more specifically identify the source of the credit shortfall and thus how to address it.  To fully understand each student’s progression toward meeting graduation requirements, educators should also view the Credit Accumulation: Core Course Requirement metric, which gives further information on whether or not credits earned also meet graduation requirements in core subjects each year. 

In addition to monitoring on track indicators and credit accumulation, it is important for teachers and counselors to closely watch course performance before a course failure or credit deficit occurs at semester- or year-end.  The Class Grades metrics in the student dashboard enable educators to easily identify students who have failing or declining grades and grades below C level at the end of each grading period in order to provide timely and appropriate support. 

Teachers and counselors should review on track and high school graduation plan information at the beginning of each year.  In addition, credit accumulation and course performance detail should be reviewed at the end of each grading period as new results are available to ensure students are completing requisite courses on time and, if not, to pursue interventions to quickly bring students back on track. 

Metric Specifications

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Foundation High School Plan


In 2013, the 83rd Texas Legislature established the new Foundation High School Program as the default graduation program for all students entering high school beginning in 2014-2015. The State Board of Education adopted rules related to the new Foundation High School Program in January 2014.

House Bill (HB) 5 required the commissioner of education to adopt a transition plan to implement HB 5 and replace the Minimum High School Program (MHSP), Recommended High School Program (RHSP), and Distinguished Achievement Program (DAP) with the Foundation High School Program beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. These rules allow students who entered high school before the 2014-2015 school year the option to graduate under the new Foundation High School Program.

Metric Specifications

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Postsecondary Success

Adequately preparing students to succeed in post-secondary education and the workforce is critical for the success of broader economy.   A post-secondary education has become a necessity in today’s workplace.  More and more employers are requiring either a technical certification, post-secondary degree or both.  Unfortunately the US has the lowest rate of enrollment in schools that translate to a bachelor’s degree or higher among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004).  Consequently there are many jobs in the US that go unfilled because there is a lack of candidates with the skill required to fill them (Li, 2010).  Improving education means not just through grade 12, but through grade 20.

Post-secondary success begins in high school and continues past post-secondary education.  While in high school educators must work hard to ensure students gain the skills needed for the college or technical program of their choosing.  Students also need support to navigate the process of applying to and enrolling in college.  Middle and high school educators play a huge role in helping students find a path to success whether it be through career and technical training or college.  This is particularly important for students in underserved populations or those who will be the first in their families to receive a post-secondary education.  Once a student enrolls in college monitoring their success enables educators at all levels as well as policy makers to ensure students are receiving the support they need and developing skills that translate into gainful employment.  Indicators such as persistence from the first and second year, credit accumulation, remedial coursework and post-secondary graduation allow educators to track progress more closely and design programs to maximize student success in the PK-20 system.  These indicators have become the focus of policy makers and legislative efforts at the state level; therefore, having longitudinal data will help to measure the success of interventions and programs that target post-secondary success.

Metric Specifications

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