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Research: Exploring Systems for College Readiness in Texas

March 2, 2023
Exploring Systems for College Readiness in Texas
By 2030, 62 percent of jobs will require some form of postsecondary credential, but only ~48% of adults in Texas have a postsecondary credential (February 7, 2023, THECB Commissioner Keller, Testimony to Senate Finance Committee). Texas has established the Building a Talent Strong Texas plan with a goal of increasing postsecondary attainment to advance student economic opportunity and ensure Texas has the skilled workforce necessary to meet future economic demands.

Given the realization that most jobs will require some postsecondary credential beyond high school, research and policy have placed considerable emphasis on improving student transitions from the preK-12 academic experience into postsecondary education. With the emergence of dual credit, early college high schools and numerous additional policy and programmatic efforts to improve student experiences in transitioning from high school into postsecondary completion, Texas likely has a more diverse landscape of efforts towards student postsecondary access and completion than any other state. Both state policy efforts and philanthropic support have led many of these efforts in Texas to streamline education systems for more students to access and complete postsecondary credentials and gain access to high-wage, high demand jobs.

Despite the number of efforts to reduce barriers to student postsecondary completion, the preK-12 and higher education systems dictating college readiness created through policies are not yet aligned for seamless student transitions between preK-12 and postsecondary education. Further, in 2013, the Texas Legislature significantly altered high school coursework and graduation requirements. Nearly ten years into this policy that shifted preK-12 student standards of course taking, we have commissioned research to by the Texas Tech University Center for Innovative Research in Change, Leadership, and Education better understand how state policies have impacted students’ transitions from preK-12 into higher education.

This report is guided by the research question: Are policies that mandate and/or incentivize preK-12 and postsecondary institutional behavior in alignment with policies such as HB 5/FHSP and other efforts aimed at increasing college-readiness and postsecondary success of Texas students?

See the full report here.

Key Takeaways
  1. Texas systems are not in alignment on what college readiness means:
This report illustrates how college readiness is defined in state statute in one way, but there are multiple college readiness standards implemented in practice that are not fully aligned between preK-12 and higher education. This misalignment, coupled with an analysis of HB 5, indicates that there is still opportunity for Texas to further align education systems to reduce the burden on individual students and families navigating their postsecondary and career pathways. 

The definition of “college readiness” in Texas varies depending on the entity assessing readiness and for what purpose. What preK-12 education deems a student “college ready” does not match what the state’s postsecondary system deems “college ready.”
Where the minimum college readiness standard in pre-K-12 means meeting ONE indicator of readiness, the postsecondary system’s Texas Success Initiative requires students to meet multiple indicators of readiness to consider a student “college ready” and eligible to enter postsecondary education without taking remedial/developmental, non-credit bearing courses.
Moreover, the public education accountability system is a minimum threshold for preK-12 college readiness, while there is a school finance incentive (bonus dollars) to encourage schools to prepare students to surpass the public education accountability standards for preK-12 college readiness.
See the table below for an explanation of the multiple determinants of college readiness in Texas, most of which are determined by various state statutes or in practice (not by a single definition).
Why does this matter? Our education system - taken as a whole of public and higher education – sends mixed messages to students and families about what it takes to be college ready. Where the public education accountability system signals that a student is college ready, the postsecondary TSI system signals that many of those “college ready students” need remediation. 

For example, in 2021, TEA reported on its CCMR accountability results (See page 19). In doing so, it shows what percentage of students met the benchmark by which indicator or criterion. For academic year 2020-2021, 65.2 percent of high school graduates met the CCMR criteria for accountability. Yet only 40.4 percent met the TSI criteria in both English Language Arts and Mathematics combined. Based on these results, in 2021 the preK-12 system is signaling that almost two-thirds of graduates were college ready. However, the postsecondary system deems less than half of these “college ready” students can be placed in college coursework without needing remediation.
College Readiness Standards – Definition and Practice
Definition in Texas law/policy Texas statute One definition of college readiness summarized as:
Students are college ready when they are
prepared to succeed in postsecondary general education coursework without needing
Implementation of Texas laws/policies
Least rigorous standard of college readiness
Public Education Accountability System, administered by Texas Education Agency
Intended purpose: Hold schools accountable for student outcomes at
the high school level.
Table 1. of report (page 7)
Students are considered college ready for meeting AT LEAST ONE of the following criteria:
  1. Meet Texas Success Initiative (TSI) criteria in ELA/reading and mathematics
  2. Complete college prep courses
  3. Graduate with completed IEP and workforce readiness
  4. Earn a Level I or Level II certificate
  5. Earn an approved industry-based certification
  6. Meet AP/IB criteria
  7. Earn dual-course credits
  8. Complete an OnRamps dual-enrollment course
  9. Earn an associate degree while in high school
  10. Graduate under an advanced diploma plan and be identified as a current special education student
Implementation of Texas laws/policies
Most rigorous standard of college readiness
Public Education Finance System, CCMR outcomes-based bonuses, administered by Texas Education Agency
Intended purpose: Provide schools and districts a greater incentive to prepare students for postsecondary
Schools receive bonus funding if a student is considered college ready by:
Meeting TSIA requirements (so this bonus aligns with the postsecondary education college ready standards) plus one of two options in each of the bonus categories (College, Career, Military):
  1. College - Earned an associate degree prior to graduation OR enrolled in college by the fall immediately after high school graduation.
  2. Career - Received an Industry-Based Certification OR Level I/Level II certificate
  3. Military - Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) passing score. AND Enlisted in U.S. Armed Forces after graduation. No TSIA requirements for military readiness.
Implementation of Texas laws/policies
Between public education accountability and finance incentive levels of rigor as far as standard of college readiness. This is because the public education CCMR bonus builds off of the TSI standards.
The Texas Success Initiative (TSI), administered by Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
Intended purpose: Determine whether students are ready for success in entry-level
college coursework in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics.
Required by Texas Higher Education College Board (THECB) for entrance into postsecondary institutions
Students not meeting TSIA criteria must take remedial coursework in the area not meeting TSI requirements before progressing to core work.
Implementation of Texas laws/policies HB 5 established endorsements and the “Foundation High School Program”
Intended purpose:
Integrate college and career readiness into the Texas high school curriculum, while providing for the optimization of individual choice in future opportunities.
Establishment of necessary coursework guidelines for students in high school.
Not all HB 5 established endorsement course requirements meet requirements for university entrance.
  1. More could be done to ensure high school course taking is aligned with postsecondary expectations of college readiness, so time spent in education results in long-term economic opportunities for Texas students and so Texas can meet its goals outlined in the state’s Building a Talent Strong Texas strategic plan:
As outlined above, the Texas system for determining college readiness is misaligned across public and higher education. HB 5 was a legislative attempt at streamlining student course taking to increase student postsecondary options. The goal of HB 5 was to integrate college and career readiness into the Texas high school curriculum, while providing for the optimization of individual choice in future opportunities. However, HB 5 could never fully achieve this goal because it did not address structural, systemic misalignment of expectations around college readiness. HB 5 was a student-centered policy attempting to address a problem that is at a systems level. 

Given roughly a quarter of Texas public high school graduates proceed to enroll in open-enrollment community and technical colleges, greater alignment is needed among the HB 5 high school endorsements, CTE, and dual-credit course sequences to promote efficient completion of two-year degrees or credentials and/or career readiness for students entering the workforce after high school.  

According to the Texas Tech analysis we commissioned, certain trends arise from student course taking since the shift to HB 5’s endorsements including: 
  • The Business and Industry endorsement is the only HB 5 endorsement that appears to shift students’ postsecondary and workforce trajectories.
  • Students completing STEM-CTE coursework, either within or outside of the STEM endorsement pathway, involving advanced math and science are more likely to earn a two-year college degree, and this degree is more likely to be aligned with local industry demands.
  • Regardless of whether students earn a postsecondary degree, students completing advanced STEM-CTE coursework earned better wages in the workforce.
When considering pre-high school academic characteristics alone, completing Algebra I in the 8th grade is the most predictive of students’ high school and postsecondary trajectories. Students who complete Algebra I in the 8th grade are more likely to earn the STEM endorsement, persist in earning the initial endorsement they declared in 9th grade, and complete advanced math and science courses. Further, these students are more likely to enroll in a four-year, selective university. Ultimately, these students are afforded more options for their post-high school trajectories rather than being limited early on in what will become possible for them following high school graduation. 

Prioritizing advanced math courses by increasing access to Algebra I in 8th grade would result in more opportunities for students to complete high school coursework that results in college credit while in high school or that increases access to more academic and workforce pathways beyond high school. Exposure to high-quality math instruction helps students thrive and excel in the higher skills needed for college and career. Over time, data indicates a gradual increase in the percentage of students taking a math course during their senior year, and an increase in the percentage of students taking college-aligned math courses (international baccalaureate, advanced placement, OnRamps, and dual credit) (E3 Alliance, Increase Advanced Math Access: Setting Students on Pathway to Success in College, Career, and Life, November 2021). Many of these college-aligned courses better align students to public school CCMR bonus requirements and to TSI college ready standards, in turn increasing college readiness at the student-level. 

Challenges exist to implementing Algebra I in 8th grade statewide, such as concerns in recruitment and retention of educators (though any educator who can teach regular 8th grade math can teach Algebra 1) and lack of incentive structures from the state to support increasing student access to advanced math. Currently, high schools do not receive credit towards their accountability rating for middle school students passing the Algebra I End of Course Assessment. However, during the ongoing A-F refresh process that should be completed in 2023, TEA originally proposed that high schools will receive accountability credit for these “accelerated testers” (8th graders completing the Algebra 1 EOC), but it was removed from a subsequent draft (TEA Updated Preliminary 2023 A–F Refresh Overview and Summary, November 2022). Philanthropy Advocates submitted public comment in February 2023 to encourage the originally proposed change. In pursuit of increasing access to advanced math early on in a student’s career, this accountability recommendation would remove one of the current systems-driven disincentives to offer Algebra I in 8th grade.
  1. Post-House Bill 5, key differences in college and career trajectories remain based on student demographics and geography.
Existing disparities in college-going and career outcomes remain for Black and Hispanic students, students from low-income households, students with disabilities, and students from rural and non-metropolitan areas of the state, and these students disproportionately missed out on benefits observed statewide post-HB 5. 

Under HB 5, Algebra II is no longer required for graduation. The STEM endorsement is the only endorsement that requires Algebra II as well as advanced lab sciences. Though offered by most districts, students enrolled in districts situated in more rural areas of the state are significantly underrepresented in access to this endorsement. Without proper advising, students who may aspire to a four-year credential out of high school would have to know to take Algebra II in high school. 
Bottom line:
There is still work to be done in state policy to streamline college readiness standards and course taking requirements to reduce misalignment between what is expected for high school graduation and what is expected for enrollment in postsecondary education. Student endorsement pathways established in House Bill 5 did not fix the misalignment in policies across preK-12 and postsecondary education systems related to college readiness standards and practice.

Philanthropy Advocates believes Texas should ensure students have access to increased economic opportunity and the state meets the goals of the Building a Talent Strong Texas plan by aligning education systems, cradle to career, for seamless student transitions. Philanthropy Advocates believes Texas should employ a variety of policies that will recruit and retain a high-skilled educator workforce, including:
  1. Align public and higher education systems (academic and workforce programs at two- and four- year institutions) through shared definitions of college readiness and braided incentive and accountability structures.
    1. Consider options to support school districts in implementing Algebra 1 in 8th grade.
    2. Ensure Foundation High School Program (HB 5, 2013) endorsement coursework sequences with advanced CTE coursework.
    3. Support strategies aimed at increasing the number of Texas high school students earning postsecondary and workforce credentials of value and aligned to meaningful postsecondary or career options.
  2. Improve credit mobility to support student transitions through strategies including:
    1. Ensure continued support for and implementation of credit transferability as envisioned in SB 25 (2019) and the new THECB Transfer Framework.
    2. Increase opportunities for stackability of credits and credentials, especially for military veterans and for early childhood educators, through competency-based education and prior learning assessments.
  3. Provide funding for Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative coordination and collaboration to meet our Building a Talent Strong Texas goals.
  4. Support the recommendations of the Texas Community College Finance Commission that strengthen K12, higher education, and workforce alignment to prepare students with credentials of value for in-demand careers.

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