Maryland County Retools College Readiness Metrics

Improving college preparedness is the main reason why the Montgomery County Public Schools system is making major changes to the Seven Keys to College Readiness program, the Washington Post reports. As education experts refine their criteria for what constitutes readiness, the proposed changes are the district's attempt to keep up.

The "seven keys" are metrics that every student should hit as they move through their academic careers in order to be considered on track for college. The metrics touch on subjects such as math and reading, and include preparedness for exams like the PSAT and the SAT.

The new Seven Keys program will also be altered to be more in line with the Common Core Standards which are beginning to be adopted by most states over the next two years.

While it is unclear what the new benchmarks will be, the facelift of the Seven Keys comes as Montgomery Superintendent Joshua P. Starr seeks to broaden the system's definition of student success to include skills not measured in standardized tests — such as persistence, motivation and grit — in addition to traditional academic knowledge focused on reading and math.

The changes that will put the program in line with the new, tougher math curriculum are expected to be rather straight-forward since standardized tests results will be used to determine if students are meeting the metrics. The more difficult changes will come when county officials and district administrators start thinking about "keys" that are much harder to define and test, such as the ability to set and meet academic and achievement goals, and improvement in communication skills and "drive."

While the aim of the program remains the same – that students should be able to be ready for college upon graduation from high school whatever their background – how to meet that standard is far from clear.

Furthermore, the program – although popular – has its share of critics. The main problem appears to be that it puts too much pressure on students.

Since the Seven Keys launched in 2009, the county goals have been plastered on school walls and distributed in e-mails and pamphlets, with a focus on reaching families for which college hasn't been a tradition. Despite gains in academic performance, Montgomery continues to grapple with how to best change and use the Seven Keys to close its achievement gap and prepare students for life after high school.

At least one of the parents thinks that the revamp is a good idea, if only because it will change the mindset of both students and their families. She said that the version currently in use sets the standards too low,so low that even those students who meet all seven might not be at a level to be considered college-ready.

Just hitting all the keys wasn't enough to achieve that goal. It required some nebulous amount of additional work. The new system should address this issue by setting the standards in such way as to assure that students who meet them can be safely assumed to be ready for college-level work.

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