This post got me thinking about why high school graduation tests don't align with college admissions. Just to be clear up front, I am talking primarily about open-access institutions such as community colleges.
One obvious reason is that the K-12 education and public higher education are overseen by different bodies (except at times in Florida) and have different groups of policy-makers. And one of the most frightening specters to anyone in higher ed is the idea of being as highly regulated as K-12 (because, you know, it works so well there). So talk of aligning standards elicits an almost knee-jerk reaction.
But the other reason there isn't alignment is a deep-seated belief on the part of plenty of people that just graduating from high school isn't sufficient preparation for college. I found this belief lurking inside of me. It's a little voice that says, "Geez, anyone who barely passed algebra and took the lowest-level of courses offered with mediocre grades, do you expect them to be able to do college-level work?" Leaving aside special education programs for students with serious disabilities, which I think constitute a special case, why shouldn't a high school diploma guarantee college readiness? - in theory.
I'm not entirely comfortable with this reaction, and I'm trying to decide how much of it is a simple recognition of the status quo and how much of it is an argument that college entrance ought to have a higher bar than a high school diploma. Bringing this sentiment out into the cold light of day where I can look at it makes it squirm a little and say, "Um, I'm just talking the status quo. Never mind me."
But at the end of the day, while I do believe in greatly expanded college access and deplore the connection between socio-economic status and educational achievement, I really don't believe that everyone ought to go to college. Some people aren't smart enough, some people don't enjoy it, and some jobs don't require it.
And if graduating from high school equals the ability to do college-level work, than some people just won't be able to graduate high school. Yet we've decided as a society that a high school diploma is a personal and societal necessity; anything less than a 100% graduation rate is failure. But if I believe all this, it leads to the inevitable conclusion that a high school diploma should not be considered sufficient preparation for college.
Practically speaking, maybe we need a system like the Brits where diplomas are given by levels. At the moment, however, I'm less interested in thinking of a solution to the corner I've boxed myself into than in the discomfort I feel with my own assumptions. I often believe entirely incompatible things, but usually I'm OK with that.
P.S. Here's a totally different response.