The Clearing House, 86: 136–141, 2013
C Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0009-8655 print; 1939-912x online
Strategies to Prepare Middle
School and High School Students
for College and Career Readiness
RICH A. RADCLIFFE and BETH BOS
Abstract: Trends among adolescents continue to be
discouraging in terms of career and college readiness
based on National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP) achievement reports and high school graduation rate data. In response, this article presents five goals
and eight strategies we have engaged in during a sevenyear research study focused on building college and career readiness among adolescents. During our final year
of helping students build college and career readiness,
we found associated improvements in their academicrelated perceptions, beliefs, and strategies; positive
personal achievement and goal orientation; rising perceptions of college; improving trends in academic performance; and stronger perseverance in high school
when compared to a control group. Because the students
in this study have not completed their high school senior year, we do not have data that predict their college
acceptance or career readiness.
as evident in their scaled scores, results in many minority students being poorly prepared for higher education
Equally disturbing is the news regarding adolescents’
career readiness. Recent high school graduation rate
data indicate that nationally about 71 percent of all
students graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma, but barely half of African American and
Hispanic students earn diplomas with their peers (Sum
2009). Each year approximately 1.2 million students
fail to graduate from high school, more than half of
whom are categorized as belonging to minority groups
(Editorial Projects in Education 2009). Legters and Balfanz (2010) report that the employment market has
changed since the early 1980s when most high school
dropouts could find a job at a living wage. Today dropouts are more likely to face unemployment,
poverty, ill health, incarceration, and dependence on
In response to these concerns we have been engaged
in a seven-year research study and program focused on
building college and career readiness among adolescents. A distinguishing feature of this program is that it
has supported a cohort of young adolescents, starting
in their sixth-grade year and continuing through their
high school years. In this article we present the goals and
strategies that pre-service teachers implemented to build
college and career readiness among these students. Our
conclusions summarize the positive student outcome
that may be associated with pursuing these goals and
strategies, and are based on a Goal-setting Worksheet,
the Patterns of Academic Learning (PALS) survey, selfreport surveys, the school district’s student registration
records, and our state’s mandated Texas Assessment
of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. Because the students in this study have not completed their high school
Keywords: college readiness, career readiness, collegegoing culture
rends among adolescents continue to be discouraging in terms of college readiness. Recent National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (National
Assessment Governing Board n.d.) academic achievement reports present a continuing trend where only
about one-third of eighth-grade students rank within
the “at or above proficient” category for mathematics,
reading, writing, and science, and a significant gap continues to exist where Hispanic and African American
groups underachieve in comparison to other groups.
Adolescents’ low NAEP scores and the current dropout rates force the question: How many will be ready
for college by graduation? Overall, the gap in education preparation among whites, Hispanics, and blacks,
Rich A. Radcliffe and Beth Bos are at Texas State University–C&I, San Marcos, TX.
Strategies for College and Career Readiness
senior year, we do not have final data on their college
acceptance or career readiness.
Three of Conley’s (2010) key dimensions for building
college readiness provide a framework for our strategies and include college knowledge, academic behaviors, and content knowledge. College knowledge, also
referred to by Conley (2010) as “contextual skills and
awareness,” is defined as “the privileged information
necessary to understand how college operates as a system and culture” (40). Academic behaviors that generally relate to self-management are the dimension of
college readiness that includes a “range of behaviors that
reflects greater student self-awareness, self-monitoring,
and self-control of a series of processes and behaviors
necessary for academic success” (Conley 2010, 39–40).
Content knowledge is described as “overarching academic skills,” which include reading and writing, and
“core academic subjects knowledge and skills,” which
encompasses English, mathematics, science, social studies, world languages, and the arts (Conley 2010, 35–39).
The Creating a College Culture Project (McClafferty,
McDonough, and Nunez 2002), which also provides
a framework for our research, emerged from concerns
about the declining number of college-bound students
from a southern California cluster of 24 schools that
are ethnically and racially diverse. The schools had
high drop-out rates and low participation by both lowincome students and minority students in honors and
advanced placement courses. McClafferty recommends
that schools should create a “college culture”: a school
culture that encourages all students to consider college
by introducing information about higher education opportunities during early adolescence and in high school.
This concept of creating a college culture among diverse adolescents who are considered at risk aligns with
Conley, who includes “create and maintain a collegegoing culture in the school” among his key principles of
college and career readiness (McClafferty, McDonough,
and Nunez 2002, 105).
Our strategies were implemented in a school district
that is ethnically and racially diverse and enrolls many
students who may not graduate from high school. The
setting for this recent program is a professional development model for pre-service teacher education.
The participants in our program initially included 100
sixth-grade students with a composition of about 60 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, and 7 percent African
American. With the assistance of school administrators,
these students were randomly selected from a pool of
about 120 students identified as at risk based on the
school district’s guidelines for academically and economically at-risk students. Fifty of these students partic-
ipated in the treatment group and were engaged in the
strategies presented in this article; the other 50 participated in a control group. The participants also included
pre-service teachers, typically college seniors, enrolled
in two teacher preparation classes that were taught two
days a week in a blended approach on the students’
school campus; that is, the pre-service teachers were
enrolled in a “professional development model.” Each
semester a different group of about 30 pre-service teachers mentored the students. During the writing-marathon
event, participants in the study also included college
professors who hosted the visiting middle school students in the professor’s college freshman-level English,
math, or science class.
At the start of the high school phase of our study, after
the students had completed eighth grade, a change in
school boundaries led to some student attrition, resulting in about 40 treatment-group participants. During
the next three years, a few of our high school participants withdrew from the school district, resulting in 31
treatment-group students at the end of the 2011 academic year.
Goals and Strategies for Building College
and Career Readiness
Following are the five goals that are the foundation for
the eight strategies used to help secondary students become college-ready and develop a college-going culture:
The student will (1) understand the nature of college,
(2) recognize that a college education may be important to his or her future success, (3) gain positive perceptions and aspirations about college, (4) prepare academically for college admission, and (5) set short- and
long-term goals that support becoming college-ready.
Table 1 lists the eight recommended strategies for helping secondary students become college-ready and a recommended schedule for implementing these strategies.
Students Create Digital Stories
While students are in middle school we recommend
that pre-service teachers coach them in creating three
digital stories that may help them become college-ready.
The topics of these three stories are “my positive school
experience,” “my future career and how to prepare for
it,” and “how to be successful in middle school.” Collectively, engaging students in creating these three stories may support three of our goals (goals 2, 4, and 5).
Digital stories are from two- to three-minute multimedia movies that combine photographs, sound, music,
text, and a narrative voice. Digital stories are used as
an expressive medium for the young adolescents to respond to the three topics that engage them in reflecting
about their past, current, and future academic preparation. Literature supports the use of digital stories in the
classroom. Bull and Kajder (2004) describe digital storytelling in language arts class; Hull and Nelson (2005)
The Clearing House
TABLE 1. Strategies to Build College and Career Readiness and Grade Implementation Schedule.
1. Create three digital stories:
a. “my positive school experience”
b. “my future career and how to prepare for it”
c. “how to be successful in middle school”
2. Visit university and community college campuses.
3. Use a writing-marathon approach during college visits.
4. Participate in academic tutoring.
5. Attend presentations by college students about the attractions of attending
6. Attend presentations by college representatives about getting admitted into
college and obtaining financial aid.
7. Plan school-related goals that help prepare for college readiness.
8. Collaborate with college students on college entrance tasks, including visit a
college resource room at school, select a favored college, respond to the state’s
college admissions site, and complete the Free Application for Federal Student
Aid (FAFSA) application.
discuss the expressive power of digital storytelling; Kajder, Bull, and Albaugh (2005) explain the nature of
digital stories; and Salpeter (2005) describes the growing popularity of this technology-based strategy.
The approach for coaching young adolescents in creating a digital story includes the nine steps presented
in Table 2. Necessary resources include a computer
lab, PowerPoint software, microphone input capability, computer scanning equipment, and access to the
Visit University and Community College Campuses
In order to help adolescents become college-ready,
we recommend that pre-service teachers lead them on
university campus tours starting when they are in seventh grade. Careful organization and scheduling of all
aspects of the tour are essential to meeting three of our
goals (goals 1, 2, and 3). We recommend scheduling
a school bus to transfer adolescents to the university
campus, arriving at 9:00 a.m., when they are greeted by
pre-service teachers. Small groups of six persons each are
formed that include two pre-service teachers and four
visiting adolescents. The pre-service teachers, who have
planned their own walking routes, escort their young
visitors around campus. Half of the groups immediately
begin their tours, incorporating a writing-marathon approach. The other half goes directly to underclassmanlevel college classes, such as biology or creative writing,
where they observe and may be invited to participate.
An hour later, the two large groups switch agendas. At
noon, all persons converge at a university dining hall
where they sit together, talk about their tours, and enjoy
lunch. As lunchtime ends, staff from the campus admissions office and financial aid office give presentations
on college application procedures.
Use a Writing-Marathon Approach during College Visits
TABLE 2. Steps for Coaching Students to
Create a Digital Story.
1. Show an example of a digital story.
2. Determine the topic for the assigned digital story.
3. Ask probing questions to help students develop ideas
for the story.
4. Describe the format for the story, specifically the
number of slides, guidelines for inserting images, the
amount of text, background music, and how to record
5. Help student develop a project timeline.
6. Discuss images to use and sources.
7. Guide the student in sketching a story line to create a
8. Help the student write text and secure images.
9. Help the student assemble the digital story.
We suggest incorporating a writing-marathon (Radcliffe and Stephens 2009; Stephens, Radcliffe, and
Schaefer 2007) into the university tours because it supports the three goals of the previously described tour.
Richard Louth (2002), of the Southeastern Louisiana
Writing Project, describes a writing-marathon as a visit
to an engaging and new setting where a small group of
writers walk and explore, stop to write about what they
are experiencing, and then share their writing. They repeat this cycle a small number of times. Marathoners
write freely and spontaneously; their writing becomes
a response to the exploration of the context that the
writers are experiencing. The sharing period is important but brief, and no particular response is requested
from the listeners other than a simple “thank you” or “I
Strategies for College and Career Readiness
TABLE 3. Steps for Tutoring a Student in One
1. Pre-service teacher talks with student’s content-area
teacher to determine the student’s motivation and/or
learning needs and tips for helping the student.
2. Pre-service teacher and content teacher agree on a
3. Pre-service teacher documents the plan.
4. Student(s) and pre-service teacher meet twice
weekly for tutoring in a location such as a classroom,
cafeteria, or library.
5. Four times per semester, as part of tutoring, the
pre-service teacher presents a short lesson on a topic
using a real-world problem.
enjoyed hearing that.” The writing-marathon is facilitated by the pre-service teachers, who should choose
stopping points based on the availability of a comfortable place and the potential for responses to a particularly rich segment of the tour, such as an art gallery.
Participate in Academic Tutoring
Achieving high grades in academic courses is important to adolescents’ progress toward becoming collegeready and supports two of our goals (goals 4 and 5).
We recommend that pre-service teachers tutor students
twice a week, starting when students are in middle
school and based on the structure described in Table 3.
Initially, pre-service teachers are matched up to one or
two students based on content areas where students
most need to improve their achievement and are also
consistent with the pre-service teacher’s area of content
strength, such as mathematics or language arts.
Attend Presentations by College Students About
the Attractions of Attending College
Starting when students are in high school, we recommend that college students and pre-service teachers
present information to adolescents about college that
includes telling their own stories about deciding to attend college, preparing for college admission, gaining
financial aid, attending college classes, participating in
campus life, and explaining the expected benefits of a
college degree. Such presentations support all five of our
Planning presentations by college students to high
school students involves determining topics that college students would be willing to discuss that would
interest adolescents and that would also support building college readiness. For example, in our program we
discovered that high school students held a strong interest in participating in collegiate sports. In response, our
pre-service teachers hosted a panel of college athletes
who talked about collegiate sports. Two other examples
of presentations that we hosted include a talk by the
editor of the university’s student paper who had overcome many challenges to attend college and a talk by
a senior-rank college student who had, in her words,
“worked the scholarship system to get a full ride.” We
suggest hosting these presentations at the students’ high
school and also during their college tours.
Attend Presentations by College Representatives About
Getting Admitted into College and Obtaining Financial Aid
The college-readiness goals of our program, including helping students gain an understanding of college,
give students the opportunity to appreciate the potential
benefits, develop positive perceptions, and prepare for
college admission. Some students may come from families where postsecondary education is unfamiliar and
adult family members may lack information about the
nature of college, how to apply to college, how to access financial resources, and how to guide their teenager
through the complexities of enrolling in college. We
recommend that, starting in high school, the university tours feature detailed presentations about college
entrance requirements, tuition, and financial aid. We
found it convenient to host these presentations during the college tours when all participants were having
lunch in a reserved section of a university dining hall. To
help adolescents understand this complex information,
we suggest presenting essentially the same information
each time they complete a campus tour.
Plan School-Related Goals That Help Prepare
for College Readiness
We recommend that pre-service teachers help adolescents set and work toward goals that prepare them
for college through a mentoring approach that merges
an emphasis on both goal setting and building relationships. As summarized by Karcher and Nakkula
(2010), two constructs for characterizing a “mentoring
match” are the developmental style and the instrumental style. The developmental pattern of interactions includes both goal-directed and relational interactions.
Emphasis is initially placed on building the relationship
and then shifts into goal-oriented interactions. Mentors
who adopt an instrumental style enter the relationship
with an agenda that is predominantly goal-oriented.
However, like the developmental style, there is a hybrid of relational and goal-oriented interactions. The
strength of the relationship increases over time as the
dyad collaborates on the focus, purpose, and manner
of accomplishing goals. For high school students, we
recommend an instrumental mentoring style to help
them set and work toward goals. Although students in
our study focused on setting goals for high school, we
suggest that goal setting be extended to include life goals
over the next 10–20 years.
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Larose, Cyreene, Garceau, Brodeur, and Tarabulsy
(2010), who address mentoring older adolescents, support a goal-directed approach while meaningfully responding to mentees’ needs, displaying authoritarian
and directive guidance as necessary, and focusing on
conventional purposes, such as future academic success.
During goal-planning sessions we suggest that mentors regularly direct their mentees’ attention to question
prompts for goal setting and e ...
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