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Analysis Shows the Impact of the Seven Keys to College Readiness

May 18, 2010
   An analysis of high school performance and college completion data shows a strong connection between the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) college readiness pathway and success in obtaining a postsecondary degree.
   The analysis studied the impact of three of MCPS’ 7 Keys to College Readiness—which map out academic benchmarks at different grade levels that will prepare students for college-level work. The updates focus on:
-  Key 4: Algebra 1 with a C or higher by the end of Grade 8
-  Key 5: Algebra 2 with a C or higher by the end of Grade 11
-  Key 6: Participation and performance on AP examinations (earning a 3 on at least one AP exam).
   The data demonstrate a direct relationship between the high expectations of these three keys and success in college. The impact was significant for all students in all areas, including African American and Hispanic students.
   “The results of this analysis clearly show that high expectations, supported by outstanding instruction, make a huge difference in the lives of our students,” said Superintendent of Schools Jerry D. Weast. “More than 80 percent of our students enroll in college upon high school graduation and we must make sure they are prepared for the rigorous work. The 7 Keys clearly define the pathway to college readiness.” 
   According to national data, nearly half of MCPS graduates from the classes of 2001-2004 earned a college degree, practically twice the national rate.
   “Given the progress we are making on the 7 Keys, we fully expect the percentage of MCPS students getting a college degree to rise in the coming years,” said Dr. Weast. 
   The updates prepared by MCPS’ Office of Shared Accountability are reported for 33,788 students in the classes of 2001 to 2004. College readiness and postsecondary student outcomes for these graduates were drawn from MCPS records and data supplied by the National Students Clearinghouse, a research service that provides college enrollment and degree information.

   Here are highlights from the three research updates (The full reports are attached.):

Focus on Key 4: Algebra 1 in Middle School is Key to College Readiness: Grade 8 has long been recognized as a pivotal point in mathematics education. Students who successfully complete Algebra 1 by the end of middle school are more likely to have the essential knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the high school mathematics courses that will prepare them for postsecondary success. 
  • Among MCPS students in the classes of 2001 to 2004 who completed Algebra 1 with a C or higher by the end of Grade 8, 95 percent enrolled in college, and 75 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • For students who did not meet this benchmark, 80 percent enrolled in college but only 34 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.

Focus on Key 5: Algebra 2 and College: The abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills that students develop through their study of high school mathematics are among the essential skills that graduates need to be prepared for college and the workplace. Nationally, completion of Algebra 2 in high school is significantly correlated with college success and future employment earnings.

  • College degree attainment rates among MCPS students who completed Algebra 2 with a C or higher by the end of Grade 11 are more than three times those of students with lesser preparation.
  • Among students in the classes of 2001 to 2004, 93 percent who met this key enrolled in college and 67 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • Conversely, of the students who did not meet this benchmark, 73 percent enrolled in college and only 19 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.

Focus on Key 6: Advanced Placement as a Key to Postsecondary Success: Successful completion of AP courses in high school (score of 3 or higher on a 5-point scale) correlates strongly with attainment of a bachelor’s degree. 
  • Of students who scored 3 or higher on an AP exam (classes of 2001-2004), 94 percent enrolled in college and 76 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • Of students who took AP exams and did not score a 3 or higher, 94 percent enrolled in college, but only 60 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • Of students who did not take AP exams, 77 percent enrolled in college and only 25 percent earned a bachelor’s degree within six years.


Focus on Key 4: Algebra 1
Focus on Key 5: Algebra 2
Focus on Key 6: Advanced Placement

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