Interpreting 12th-Graders' NAEP-Scaled Mathematics Performance Using High School Predictors and Postsecondary Outcomes From the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS: 88)

Leslie A. Scott, Steven J. Ingels, and Jeffrey A. Owings
National Center on Education Statistics
September 2007

This blockbuster report (which didn't receive the coverage it deserves) examines whether performance on NAEP could predict matriculation to, and success in, college-and thus whether a certain NAEP score indicates "college readiness." In a nutshell, analysts followed a representative group of students who graduated from middle school in 1988 and, as high-school seniors, took a math test the results of which could be equated to the NAEP's scale. (Students were followed until 2000, when they were about 26 years old.) The results are pretty interesting. Of twelfth-graders who scored below NAEP's "basic" level, about half did not participate in any postsecondary education. Only about a fifth of these students received at least a bachelor's degree; another fifth got a certificate or an associate's degree. Of those twelfth-grade students who did make the basic level, half went to a four-year school, and another quarter to a two-year school. Fifty percent of these "at basic" students walked away with at least a bachelor's degree, and another 12 percent received a certificate or associate's degree. A whopping 84 percent of students scoring at "proficient" matriculated to a four-year school and almost all of them earned at least a bachelor's degree. As for those at the "advanced" level, over ninety percent graduated with four-year degrees, mostly from highly selective or selective institutions. What does that mean in terms of college readiness? The report doesn't say, but here's this reviewer's take: getting kids to NAEP's basic level in mathematics by grade 12 gives them a fifty-fifty shot at graduating with a four-year college degree. Getting them to "proficient" almost guarantees it. Thus, if you want the odds to be in students' favor, the demarcation for college readiness is probably somewhere between basic and proficient. But decide for yourself; the report is here.

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