Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

School Social Work and College Readiness: Examining School-Level Factors Related to American College Test Scores

Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

School Social Work and College Readiness: Examining School-Level Factors Related to American College Test Scores

Article excerpt

School social work practice focuses on addressing students' nonacademic barriers to learning such as mental health issues and basic needs (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2012). In turn, this focus supports students' academic growth and overall healthy development (Adelman & Taylor, 2011). Because school social work practice is situated within the context of education, it is increasingly important for social workers to align their practice with educational priorities and processes. Current federal initiatives focus on the need for youth to be prepared to meet the demands of college curricula. For instance, President Obama's 2009 Race to the Top initiative highlighted the importance of college readiness in high school education by offering grants to states that supported the development of college preparation programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). Likewise, the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (PL 115-315; 2008) prioritized the development of programs to assist students' transitions from secondary to postsecondary education. Several states also are examining students' college matriculation and graduation through the use of comprehensive data systems that track students across transitions (Institute of Education Sciences, 2013). The push for schools to prepare their students for college is now felt throughout the country.

College readiness, defined as a student's level of preparation for enrollment and success at postsecondary institutions (Conley, 2007), affords numerous short- and long-term benefits for students. College readiness is associated with students' higher rates of college enrollment and achievement, as well as improved student engagement, self-efficacy, independence, financial responsibility, and reduced risky behavior (Hooker & Brand, 2009). In the long run, obtaining higher levels of education has substantial economic benefits (Day & Newburger, 2002). Despite the growing emphasis on postsecondary education, high school students are generally underprepared for college. In 2012, almost one-third of all students who took the American College Test (ACT), one widely used indicator of college readiness, did not meet any college readiness benchmarks, and only one-quarter of students met all of the benchmarks (ACT, 2012).

The call to improve college readiness nationwide requires systemic changes across schools, communities, and institutions of higher education (Foley, Mishook, & Lee, 2013). School-level factors, those that occur at the meso or macro level of school social work practice, may considerably influence students' college readiness, particularly for those students who are members of vulnerable populations. To inform school social work practice and policy, this study explores these school-level factors as they relate to students' college readiness.

Review of Literature

Previous studies highlight the importance of school-wide academic performance, school size, and population subgroups in a number of edu- cational areas such as academic outcomes, student connectedness, and teacher-student relationships (Brock, 2010; McGee, 2003). For instance, McGee found a positive relationship between state-administered high school exams and students' academic achievement in the first year of college. Likewise, others found that students' academic performance in high school was the greatest predictor of college readiness and college success (Sackett, Kuncel, Arneson, Cooper, & Waters, 2009; Schmitt et al., 2009). It is likely that school-wide academic performance (i.e., students' aggregate academic performance within one school) also is related to college readiness.

Many studies also identify the impact of students' socioeconomic status (SES) on academic outcomes. Students who are low income tend to have lower ACT scores than their higher income peers (Qiu & Wu, 2011). Additionally, Barnard-Brak, McGaha-Garnett, and Burley (2011) found that schools with greater numbers of low-income students were less likely to offer advanced placement courses. …

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