A Shift In Focus: Preparing All Students To Be College & Career Ready

By Jennifer Glasheen, Director of Teaching and Learning
Additional info supplied by ELA Specialist Connie Molony and Math Coordinator LaCosta Potter

Jennifer Glasheen
Connie Molony
LaCosta Potter








As a high school chemistry teacher for many years, I remember many conversations with colleagues about our ‘job’ as educators and the role of the public schools. Many, like me, thought we should be preparing students for the “next level” – in my case, Advance Placement and/or college chemistry. Others, especially those who worked with students considered “at-risk”, simply getting students to graduation was the goal. Still others believed aligning their curriculum and instruction toward the development of trade skills that would allow students to enter the workforce was their ultimate goal. So what is our job? If you answered all of the above, you are correct! However, in a rapidly changing world, with increasing access to information and increased demand for technical skills, how do we do this well? How do we prepare ALL students with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to be successful in whichever path they choose? Are there essential components that need to be part of a students’ K-12 experience that would support this readiness for college and/or career success? 

College and career readiness incorporates the elements that every student should achieve for success beyond high school. Indeed, both pathways depend on core-academic subject knowledge, such as English and advanced math, as well as *21st Century skills (critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity) and innovation. The ever-changing demands of a global economy and our nation’s prosperity in the near future depend on schools getting it right. The U.S. economy can only thrive if the whole population is equipped to succeed. It is education’s moral imperative to provide deeper learning opportunities and workforce preparation for all.


**Click the image or read below to understand what the diagram shows and how it can be used.

In July of 2012, the South East Education Cooperative (SEEC) began work on the Succeed 2020 grant – a $2 million dollar/5-year grant aimed at improving North Dakota’s education and workforce development systems by 1) Increasing students’ achievement in middle and high school, 2) access to and success in postsecondary education, and 3) preparation for 21st century careers.

Several tools, resources and articles have been collected and/or developed as a result of Succeed 2020 for SEEC administrators, counselors and teachers to use as they prepare students to be college and/or career ready.

 The North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education’s ***Career Resource Network gives access to another fantastic resource: RUReadyND.com for students, parents and educators.


NDSS and the link to College & Career Readiness

The North Dakota State Standards (NDSS) are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills students need in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics at each grade level so they can be prepared to succeed in college, career, and life.  Across the ELA and math standards, skills critical to each content area are emphasized. In particular, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and critical-thinking skills are interwoven into the standards.

Looking closer at the NDSS as they relate to college and career readiness, you will find that they define students who are college and career ready as literate people who exhibit these qualities:

  • Demonstrate independence
  • Build strong content knowledge
  • Respond to varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline
  • Comprehend as well as critique
  • Value evidence
  • Use technology and digital media strategically and capably
  • Come to understand other perspectives and cultures

Schools that develop a shared vision of college and career readiness recognize the skillset a student should obtain through their K-12 education and agree that student success is the ‘job’ of every educator in the system.

Implementing the NDSS requires important instructional shifts, including these for English language arts and content area teachers:

  • Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts
  • Reading and writing grounded in evidence from text
  • Regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary

In mathematics classrooms, teachers and students will:

  • Focus strongly where the standards focus
  • Coherence: think across grades, and link to major topics within grades
  • Rigor: in major topics
    • conceptual understanding,
    • procedural skill and fluency, and
    • application

with equal intensity

In summary, the Career Readiness Partner Council has issued A Call to Action:

“For too many years, high school graduates throughout the United States faced a fork in the road. One path led to a four-year college, the other to an entry-level job. Some students chose for themselves, while others were tracked based on aptitude and, all too often, on race and income. In today’s 21st century global economy, the choices are much more complex and interconnected, and the fork in the road has been replaced by numerous paths, all of which require a rigorous and rich high school experience that prepares all students—not just some— for college and a career.”  


What is College and Career Ready Math? Read this research paper that focuses on determining the mathematics knowledge and skills students need to be college and more importantly, career ready. Or, watch this video from educator Phil Daro (helped write Common Core State Standards) titled, “Middle Grades Math – Why Algebra Matters.” 

Read more about the Key Instructional Shifts for implementing the NDSS.  Understanding how the standards differ from previous standards—and the necessary shifts they call for—is essential to implementing the standards well.

Read more about Deeper Learning:  Deeper learning prepares students to know and master core academic content; think critically and solve complex problems; work collaboratively; communicate effectively; and be self-directed and able to incorporate feedback.

Read more about what it means to be Career-Ready:   College readiness is only part of the answer. What is needed is a more comprehensive strategy that bridges the gap between education and workforce preparation.


*A great example of learning focused on college/work readiness and the 4Cs is West Fargo Public Schools’ Insourced event. Insourced is Collaboration between educators and local business/industry leaders; Communication about the essential skillsets our students will need in future careers; Critical Thinking about how to create learning opportunities that embrace the 4Cs and college/work readiness; and Creativity in how to apply this unique professional learning experience to the classroom. Find info on the upcoming 2015 event here or watch videos of 2014 presenters here.

** The CCR Readiness diagram is a conceptual map that depicts the unique elements that distinguish college readiness from career readiness as well as the common elements that define a secondary student who is college and career ready. The left side of the diagram identifies the elements essential to preparing young people for successful entry into and completion of postsecondary education. The right side of the diagram identifies the elements essential to preparing young people for successful entry into career pathways. The center, where the two circles overlap, identifies the elements common to both preparation for postsecondary education and for careers.

The CCR Readiness diagram can be used to guide discussion of what young people need to be well-prepared for college and careers as well as the actions needed to assess and improve the nature and quality of opportunities and supports available to young people. In today’s rapidly changing world, the elements depicted in all three portions of this diagram are important. Most students currently leave high school with some, but not all, of the elements on either the left or the right side of this diagram. Very few, if any, leave high school having completed the elements in the central column.

***The SEEC has worked closely with Jody Breker and the Career Resource Network. Jody has been a fantastic resource and contact for SEEC staff and all of its member schools. Jody will be retiring this year and we cannot thank her enough for all the work she has done and she will surely be missed. Looking forward, the SEEC will be looking for an individual to work part-time in this area. If you have any interest or know someone who would be a great fit for this position, please contact Jennifer Glasheen at glashej@ndseec.com.


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