College and Career Readiness for the Forgotten Middle

There is a call to action for middle school educators to strive for stronger curriculum alignment and proper lesson planning in order to prevent students who are bridging between the elementary setting to the high school experience from being forgotten.

In 2008, ACT published “The Forgotten Middle,” a guide for college and career readiness. This study places a spotlight on the middle school student population and recognizes that this time frame is a defining point in the college and career process. Essentially, those students who are not on target for college and career readiness by the eighth grade may be at a point of no return. Therefore, we must focus on getting more students aligned with college and career readiness goals so they are prepared to fully benefit from their high school experience.

Defining expectations for middle school instruction

The National Office for School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA) identifies eight components of college and career readiness counseling. Of these eight components, six apply to the middle school setting:

  • College Aspirations
  • Academic Planning for College and Career Readiness
  • Enrichment and Extracurricular Engagement
  • College and Career Exploration and Selection Process
  • College and Career Assessments
  • College Affordability Planning

Although these components are the same for elementary school, the difference is the sense of urgency. When college and career readiness is ignored or put off by the home and the school, students are at a disadvantage as well as at risk to not be fully prepared for life as an adult. Steps need to be taken to prepare educators and make parents aware of how they can influence their children and help them explore various career options.

College and career focus at the state level

The Washington state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has put into place a college and career readiness curriculum called Sparking the Future. The program provides extra help for students starting in grade seven, helping them experience postsecondary options. Activities include discussing lifestyle goals, introducing college resources, conducting interest inventories and exploring career possibilities that may deviate from the traditional college route.

A pledge for student success

Dr. Dale Marsden, superintendent of the San Bernardino City Unified School District in San Bernardino, California, has pledged to put all students on a career path by 2017. In order to make his promise a reality, the district has created themed career pathway programs that mix academics with real work experience. The idea is to make students more aware of the variety of career paths that exist in today’s professional world. For example, students may study environmental science while installing solar panels on homes in the community. Mixing collegiate study with real-world experience shows students different ways to achieve in a specific career field.

College and career readiness is not an expensive venture

Creating an academic plan that emphasizes college and career readiness does not require additional district or state funding, nor does it require a drastic shift in curriculum development. Those schools who utilize Common Core State Standards are already ahead of the game, because one of the primary objectives of CCSS is to align curriculum with college and career readiness goals. School districts that are not aligned with CCSS may expand their reach into community partnerships with local technology and vocational centers.

As an educator, your goal in regards to academic planning should be to advance student planning and participation in an academic program that connects to their college and career aspirations. Helping students with an academic road map allows them to focus on personal goal setting in relation to college and career planning.

The research study conducted by ACT analyzed a variety of academic factors relative to college and career readiness. Researchers determined that eighth-grade academic achievement and being on target for college and career readiness by this point has the greatest impact on a student’s college and career readiness by the end of high school.

Your voice matters

Educators are the advocates for children. A classroom teacher may recognize the need for greater focus in his/her district on college and career readiness, but believes there is nothing that can be done. Each teacher has a voice that is stronger than those of his/her students. Research what states like Washington and California are integrating in their schools and present this information to administration. Share ideas and urge parents to be proactive in their child’s future vocation, even at an early age.

A final challenge

ACT challenges educators to integrate activities into the curriculum that promote and enhance college and career readiness. Utilize the NOSCA components for college and career readiness as a guide for lesson planning. The academic obstacles for eighth-grade students not exposed to college and career readiness can become too large to overcome. Make career preparation a nonnegotiable standard in the middle school classroom.

Dr. Jason Perez is the head principal at Heritage Trails Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma, as well as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Central Oklahoma, where he teacher Master of Education Administration courses.

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