MCPS Launches Effort to Teach Students, Families About College Readiness

April 28, 2009
Research-based “Seven Keys to College Readiness” Initiative Showcases Proven Pathway of Key Academic Milestones That Lead to Successful College Preparation

Comprehensive Public Awareness Campaign Includes Multimedia Resources, Including Online, Video, Print Materials in Multiple Languages to Help Students and Families

One of the most fundamental questions parents have today is “What do I need to do to make sure my child is ready for college?” Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has created a new, comprehensive and user-friendly set of resources to ensure that every parent knows the pathway to college readiness. The pathway, called “Seven Keys to College Readiness,” identifies seven important milestones for families to monitor how students are progressing along the path to college.

While MCPS has long tied its classroom lessons to college readiness standards, President Obama has launched a new national push to increase college graduation rates. By 2020, President Obama wants the United States to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. As it stands now, barely one-quarter of high school graduates nationally complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.

The “Seven Keys to College Readiness” is a groundbreaking initiative that is research-based. MCPS has launched a major public awareness campaign in six languages to help all families know what steps they need to follow to help their children be ready for the rigors of college when they graduate from high school. The campaign includes parent workshops, a brochure that will be distributed to all families, and a comprehensive website (, all in multiple languages. The site features a wide array of multimedia resources with background on each of the seven key academic benchmarks, beginning with the need for students to read at an advanced level in kindergarten.

Each of the Seven Keys is based on research that identifies academic milestones that can effectively predict the likelihood of a student being on the path to college readiness.

Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, joined Shirley Brandman, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education; Patricia O’Neill, vice president of the Board of Education; administrators, teachers, students and parents in announcing the launch of the Seven Keys awareness effort at a kickoff event today at Northwood High School. The Board of Education will discuss the Seven Keys to College Readiness at its April 28 evening meeting.

“At a time when the importance of students going on to higher education to complete a college degree is clearer than ever, there can be no greater urgency for us than preparing all of our students to succeed,” said Dr. Weast. “The Seven Keys to College Readiness maps out a clear trajectory to help families know what milestones their children should be reaching. MCPS is among national leaders in high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates, but we need to do even better. Our goal is to get all 80 percent of our students to be college-ready by 2014. It’s an ambitious, but very reachable goal, as long as our students know the pathway that it will take to get there.”

“We want our students to have choices. Whether it is going straight to college or meeting the demands of the 21st century workplace, our students need to have the best possible foundation,” said Board President Brandman. “Giving students a road map to be sure they are prepared is essential to raising the bar and closing the gap. The Seven Keys campaign will go a long way toward ensuring that all students—and families—have access to this critical information so that they are 'college ready ' and able to seize available opportunities upon graduation from high school.”

The Seven Keys to College Readiness initiative is based on MCPS research, which identified key data points in a student’s school career that have been proven to be reliable predictors of whether a student will be fully ready for college-level work. It also emphasizes a wide variety of national research that consistently indicates that the rigor of a student’s high school curriculum is one of the prime factors in predicting whether a college freshman will go on to complete a bachelor’s degree.

President Obama issued a clarion call about the need to boost the number of students going on to college during his first speech before a joint session of Congress in February. “In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity—it is a prerequisite,” the President noted in his address. “And yet, we have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish. This is a prescription for economic decline.”

The Seven Keys to College Readiness

The key academic milestones that are highlighted in Montgomery County Public Schools’ new “Seven Keys to College Readiness” campaign are as follows:

KEY 1: Advanced reading in Grades K–2
This first key gives students the strong foundation they need for all learning that follows.  In the early grades, students read and comprehend levels of text that vary in difficulty.  In kindergarten, students who can read Level 6 text by the end of the year are reading at advanced levels. By the end of 1st grade, students should be reading Level 16 books. In 2nd grade, students who score in the 70th percentile or higher on a national test called the TerraNova are reading at advanced levels. Scoring at the 70th percentile means that they perform better than 70% of students nationwide.

KEY 2: Advanced reading on MSA (Maryland School Assessment) in Grades 3–8
MSA results are scored as “basic,” “proficient,” or “advanced.” Students who score “advanced” demonstrate more complex reading, thinking, writing, and creative problem-solving skills.  They are more likely to stay on the college-ready pathway when they go to high school.

KEY 3: Advanced math in Grade 5
Students can start advanced math as early as kindergarten.  In 5th grade, advanced math means Math 6 or higher.  Students who successfully complete end-of-unit assessments for Math 6 will be well prepared to successfully complete Algebra 1 in 8th grade.  Math 6 is available in all elementary schools.

KEY 4: Algebra 1 by Grade 8 with a “C” or higher
Algebra 1 is an important gateway to academic success.  Students who complete Algebra 1 with a “C” or higher by the end of 8th grade are more likely to be successful in science and math courses in high school, as well as on the SAT, which is one of the entrance exams for college.

KEY 5: Algebra 2 by Grade 11 with a “C” or higher
Students who complete Algebra 2 by the end of 11th grade with a “C” or higher will perform better on the SAT and ACT college entrance exams, and are less likely to have to take remedial math courses in college.  Students who complete Algebra 2 also are more than twice as likely to graduate from college than are students with less mathematical preparation.

KEY 6: Score of 3 on an AP exam or 4 on an IB exam
AP courses are offered in all MCPS high schools and IB courses are available in several MCPS high schools.  Both are college-level classes.  It is important for students to take the AP and IB exams that are offered at the end of these courses. Students who take the exams perform better in college than those who don’t.  Students who score a 3 or higher (on a scale of 1-5) on the AP or 4 or higher (on a scale of 1-7) on the IB exam may earn advanced standing in college or college credit.  Each college sets its own criteria for awarding credit.

KEY 7: 1650 score on the SAT or 24 on the ACT
Scoring at least 1650 on the SAT (maximum score 2400) or 24 on the ACT (maximum score 36) college entrance exams helps students gain acceptance to the colleges of their choice.  It minimizes the chance that students will have to take remedial courses in college and it also increases their chances of earning a college degree.  In preparation for the SAT, MCPS offers all 10th grade students the opportunity to take the PSAT (preliminary SAT) free of charge.

For more information on Montgomery County Public Schools’ campaign: “The Seven Keys to College Readiness,” visit the link below.

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