Supporting Research - Achievement

Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA)

Children who enter kindergarten more ready to grow and learn have an advantage over their peers who are less ready to do so. Lower levels of kindergarten readiness are associated with poorer academic outcomes from elementary to high school….Children who rated poor in academic readiness were nine to 10 times more likely to have low reading scores at the end of first grade. In addition, children who rated poor in behavior readiness were six times more likely to be rated as having displayed disruptive behavior and poor social skills by their first-grade teachers.  (“Kindergarten Readiness,” National Center for Education Statistics)

Research has established that school readiness across multiple developmental domains (physical, emotional, social, language, and cognitive) is associated with later measures of students’ success at school. Most of the research on school readiness and school success focuses on academic achievement as the primary measure of school success, and these studies tend to find that language and cognitive skills in preschool/kindergarten show the largest associations with academic achievement. (Gregory T., et al., “Associations between School Readiness and Student Wellbeing: A Six-Year Follow Up Study,” Child Indicators Research, 2020.)

Skills measured during preschool that have not historically been classified as “academic” have also been classified as school readiness skills and shown to be related to academic outcomes in primary school. These less traditional school readiness skills include socioemotional skills such as attachment, attention, internalizing and/or externalizing problems, and self-control;  fine motor skills; and executive function skills.  (Ricciardi, C., et al., “School readiness skills at age four predict academic achievement through 5th grade,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2021)

School readiness is also associated with other measures of school success, such as students’ social and emotional wellbeing …social competence and emotional maturity at school entry were associated with all four student well-being outcomes (life satisfaction, optimism, sadness, and worries) in Grade 6. Children who were vulnerable or at risk in these developmental domains had poorer well-being in Grade 6.  (Gregory T., et al., “Associations between School Readiness and Student Wellbeing: A Six-Year Follow Up Study,” Child Indicators Research, 2020.)

SC READY – Third Grade Reading

Reading proficiently by the end of third grade can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development.  Up until the end of third grade, most children are learning to read.  Beginning in fourth grade, however, they are reading to learn, using their skills to gain more information in subjects such as math and science, to solve problems, to think critically about what they are learning, and to act upon and share the knowledge in the world around them. 

Up to half of the printed fourth-grade curriculum is incomprehensible to students who read below that grade level.  And, three-quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school.  Students with relatively low literacy achievement tend to have more behavioral and social problems in subsequent grades and high rates of retention in grade.

High school graduation can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill at the end of third grade.  A person who is not at least a moderately-skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school.  (“Early Warning:  Why Reading by the End of Third-Grade Matters,” Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2010)

Studies show that US students who can’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.  (Hernandez, D.J., “Double jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation,” Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012)

Nationally, more than 8 in 10 students who failed to earn a high school diploma were struggling readers in third grade.  (“The Importance of 3rd Grade Reading and 8th Grade Math,” Indiana Youth Institute, 2021)

Third graders reading below grade level will likely attend college at lower rates. Fewer than 20% of college students in the study were struggling readers as third graders, compared to 60% who were reading above grade level at that age.

Third graders who aren’t proficient readers are six times more likely to live in poverty.  (3rd Grade Reading Proficiency,” The Opportunity Trust)

Under the South Carolina “Read to Succeed” Act, a student must be retained in the third grade if the student fails to demonstrate reading proficiency at the end of third grade as indicated by scoring at the lowest achievement level on the state summative reading assessment SC READY. A student may be exempt for good cause from the mandatory retention but shall continue to receive instructional support and services and reading intervention appropriate for their age and reading level.  (“Read to Succeed,” SC Dept. of Education)

SC READY – Eighth Grade Math 

Math proficiency in eighth grade is one of the most significant predictors of students’ progress and success in high school, college, and beyond.  (“The Importance of 3rd Grade Reading and 8th Grade Math,” Indiana Youth Institute, 2021)

Eighth grade math proficiency is considered the “gatekeeper” to advanced math and science courses such as calculus and physics. Middle schoolers who meet certain math thresholds are more likely to finish high school prepared for college and careers.  (“8th Grade Math Proficiency,” The Opportunity Trust)


NAEP provides a common measure of student achievement across the country. Because states have their own unique assessments with different content and standards, it is impossible to use them as a means for comparing state achievement. Such comparisons are possible with NAEP because the questions and administration of the assessment are the same across all states.  (“An Introduction to NAEP, National Assessment of Educational Progress, National Center for Education Statistics, 2010 ”)

NAEP’s achievement levels –basic, proficient, and advanced – are the closest thing the U.S. has ever had to stable national standards for student learning in the elementary and secondary years.  NAEP student achievement covers the nation as a whole,  every state, several dozen big-city school systems, and some private schools.

NAEP can reveal large differences between its definition of student proficiency and the version — almost always easier — that a state is employing.  NAEP enables users to determine how well their state expectations of its fourth graders, say, in math, or eighth graders in English, stack up against a widely accepted version of national standards for those subjects.  (Finn, C.E., “Seven Things to Know about NAEP,” The Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2022)

End of Course Examination Program (EOCEP)

The End of Course Examination Program (EOCEP) is a statewide assessment program of end-of-course tests in high school core courses. The EOCEP tests students in four subject areas: Algebra 1, Biology 1,  English 2, and US History and the Constitution.  Algebra 1 can be taken in middle school. (Middle schools will not have scores for the other subject areas.)  EOCEP test results account for 20% of a student’s final grade in that subject. Learn more at the South Carolina Department of Education.

First Years on Track for Graduation

Researchers target 9th grade as the make or break year for completing high school. During the 9th-grade year, many students for the first time have to earn passing grades in core courses, and these core courses are typically some of the toughest and most rigorous academic classes a student must take in high school …. Ninth graders have the lowest grade point average, the most missed classes, the majority of failing grades, and more misbehavior referrals than any other high school grade level. (McCallumore, K.M. and Sparapani, E.F., “The Importance of the Ninth Grade on High School Graduation Rates and Student Success,” Education Digest, Institute for Education Sciences, 2010)

Students’ course performance in ninth grade is strongly related to grades later in high school as well as the likelihood that they graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education. (Easton, J.Q. et al., “The Predictive Power of Ninth-Grade GPA,” The University of Chicago, 2017)

While the transition from middle school to high school can represent an important milestone, it can also be a time of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection for some students. This transition period is frequently marked by declining academic performance, increased absences, and increased behavior disturbances. These factors put freshmen more at risk than any other school-aged group.  (McCallumore)

High School Graduation

A high school diploma is a standard requirement for most jobs and for higher education opportunities.  Not completing high school is linked to a variety of factors that can negatively impact health, including limited employment prospects, low wages, and poverty.

Earning a high school diploma decreases the risk of premature death and increases employment prospects and lifelong earning potential.  Full-time workers with a high school degree earned approximately 24 percent more than their counterparts without a high school degree.  (“High School Graduation,” Healthy People 2030, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services)

Although many young people who do not receive a high school diploma go on to earn an equivalency degree, such as a GED, this credential is associated with lower earning potential and generally poorer health outcomes than a standard diploma.  (KidsData, Population Reference Bureau, 2023)

College or Career Ready

Recent projections indicate that within the next decade, 63 percent of all jobs in the United States and 90 percent of new jobs in growing industries with high wages will require some form of postsecondary education. However, institutions of higher education and the business community have long expressed concerns about the inadequacy of a traditional PK–12 education in preparing students for postsecondary education or the training necessary to succeed in these careers.  (“The College and Career Readiness and Success Organizer,” College & Career Readiness & Success Center at American Institutes for Research (AIR), 2019)

Industry Credential

Credentials have currency in two primary ways: they help an individual find employment or move up in the workforce, and/or they accelerate a student’s progression into and through postsecondary education and training.

Identifying industry-recognized credentials that are high value and differentiating them from those that do not provide a return on investment for credential earners is of paramount importance. Otherwise, states risk that new attainment goals and accountability metrics will drive students to pursue lower-value credentials that do not lead to good jobs.  (“Credential Currency, How States Can Identify and Promote Credentials of Value,”  Advance CTE and Council of Chief State School Officers, 2018)

Career and technical education (CTE) is important, and industry-recognized certifications (IRCs) are increasingly important. The evidence so far demonstrates a positive relationship between these certifications and student outcomes.  Nonetheless, it remains unclear which certifications have the greatest and least value.  (“Do Industry-Recognized Credentials Help Students Transition to College and Careers? A Conversation with Matt Giani,” MDRC, 2023)

Students who earn IRCs during high school tend to have somewhat better work and college outcomes, including higher employment rates, more income, and higher rates of college enrollment and persistence….It doesn’t appear that IRCs are transformational for most students. While positive, the differences in work and postsecondary educational outcomes for students with and without particular IRCs are generally small, and for most IRCs they’re negligible.

The value of an IRC is likely not fully recognized until students complete other relevant courses, apprenticeships, and on-the-job experiences that span both high school and what comes after it.  (Giani, M., “How Attaining Industry-Recognized Credentials in High School Shapes Education and Employment Outcomes,” Thomas Fordham Institute, 2022)

Work-Based Learning

It is easier to develop professional skills through work-based training than transferring theoretical knowledge learned at school into practice.  Workplace training teaches students entrepreneurship, promotes maturity, and supports the development of practical soft skills like initiative, problem-solving skills, and the use of information sources.

Learners who graduate from a high school-based vocational education and training (VET) program which includes work-based learning (WBL) are less likely to be unemployed than those who do not receive WBL or who work independently in a job unrelated to their training program.

Students who take classroom-based VET subjects with workplace learning are around nine percentage points more likely to complete [high school] compared to those who undertake classroom-based VET without workplace learning.

“At-risk” [high school] students who participate in Career Academies–career oriented education programs that among other things gives students workplace learning opportunities—have an eleven percentage point reduction in dropout rates.

Students who had undertaken a work placement while in [high] school had better labor market outcomes than those who had not, especially women.  (Musset, P. “Improving Work-Based Learning in Schools,” OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers No. 233, 2019)


College admissions experts encourage almost every student to take the SAT or ACT at least once.  However, many colleges and universities are placing less emphasis on standardized test scores in the admissions process.  They are now test-optional or test-blind and  focus on other factors, like GPA and essays.  Test scores tend to validate other parts of the application, but a high school transcript is always going to matter more than a test score.  Because students from more underrepresented groups with less privilege have less access to test prep than their more privileged peers, consideration of SAT or ACT scores in college admissions gives more privileged students an advantage over their less privileged peers.  (Wood, S., “How Important Are SAT, ACT Scores in College Admissions?,” U.S. News & World Report, 2022)

Many college scholarships have a minimum requirement for ACT or SAT scores although it is not as common as GPA qualifications.   The higher the test score, the higher your chances of qualifying for some scholarships.  (Wignall, A., “How to Improve Your Chances of Qualifying for More Scholarships,” College Raptor, 2022)

Many schools are now “test-optional,” meaning that students can submit SAT and ACT test scores if they would like, but they are not required to do so.  The reality, though, is that only 3.7% of U.S. colleges are “test-blind,” meaning they do not consider test scores.  Those who submit test scores are admitted at a rate that is often twice as much as those who do not submit test scores.  To have a successful application, students would be smart to include test scores that demonstrate their readiness for college-level work.  Achieving certain section scores can allow students to place out of general education requirements, saving time and money.  (“5 Reasons to Take the SAT and ACT Tests,” BWS Education Consulting, 2022)

Potential College Credit

Colleges take many factors into consideration when deciding on admission of an applicant. One may have solid high school grades and a good score on a college admissions test, but so do many other applicants.  For admission to a college or program where standards are high and competition is fierce, having already earned college credits can make a big difference.  It shows strong abilities, initiative, and good planning.  (“What Are the Benefits of Earning College Credit in High School?” Arizona State University Preparatory Academy, 2019.)

When high school students enroll and succeed in college courses, they simultaneously gain access to advanced coursework while saving on college costs. Savings take place in two ways. First, students save money by reducing their “time to degree.” That is, they can earn a degree faster because they have already taken at least some of their required courses and earned college credits in high school. In addition, students save money because college courses taken in high school frequently cost less than traditional courses taken in college. 

But, these benefits depend on whether the college credits earned in high school are transferred to the college from which a student ultimately earns their degree. Unfortunately, credit transfer is not guaranteed unless policies and practices are in place requiring it. The Government Accountability Office estimated that 43% of credits are lost upon transfer, and 37% are lost when students transfer between public institutions of higher education. (Lovell, P. and Pena, J.F., “Giving Credit Where Credit is Due,” All4Ed, 2023)

Students of color are underrepresented in dual-credit courses.  National data for 2020-21 shows that Hispanic or Latino students made up 27% of high school enrollment but accounted for 21% of those enrolled in dual-credit courses.  Black or African American students made up 15% of high school enrollment but only 9% of those enrolled in dual-credit courses.  (Pendharkar, E. and Sparks, S.D., “New National Data Show Depth of Disparities in a Chaotic Year of Schooling,” Education Week, 2023)

Post-Secondary Degree Attainment

Among full-time workers age 25 and over in 2023, the median weekly earnings of associate-degree holders were 12% higher than for high school graduates with no college.  Bachelors-degree holders earnings were 48% higher than those with an associate’s degree and 66% higher than high school graduates with no college.  Those with higher degrees made 24% more than those with a bachelor’s and no additional degree.  (“Median weekly earnings $721 for workers without high school diploma, $1,864 for advanced degree,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics., 2023”)   A 2021 study found, though, that 28% of workers with an associate degree earned more than half of workers with a bachelor’s.  (Allen, S. “How Employers View an Associate Degree,” U.S. News & World Report, 2022)

A college degree is the most reliable pathway to the middle class….In 2020, workers with college degrees held 69 percent of good jobs: 24 percent of good jobs went to workers with graduate degrees, 34 percent went to workers with bachelor’s degrees, and 11 percent went to workers with associate’s degrees. By 2031, 66 percent of good jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Even as [higher educational] attainment has risen across all racial/ethnic groups, colossal gaps persist between white adults and Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Indigenous adults.  For several groups, gains in degree attainment lagged behind white gains.

At a national level, college degree attainment spurs economic growth, facilitates innovation, and encourages the critical inquiry and deliberative skills that are foundational to a functional democracy. (Carnevale, A.P., et al., “LEARNING AND EARNING BY DEGREES Gains in College Degree Attainment Have Enriched the Nation and Every State, but Racial and Gender Inequality Persists.” Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2024.)

The nonmonetary opportunities for growth that stem from higher education are well documented.  College attainment correlates with a better self-reported health status, lower mortality rates, and a higher likelihood of healthy behaviors. Lower levels of criminal activity and incarceration, higher levels of marriage, and a greater sense of agency and empowerment were also cited.  (“The Benefits of Higher Education You Might Not Expect,” Best Colleges, 2021)

“Adults with higher educational attainment live healthier and longer lives compared with their less educated peers. The disparities are large and widening.”  (Zajacova, A., and Lawrence, E.M., “The Relationship Between Education and Health: Reducing Disparities Through a Contextual Approach,” Annual Review of Public Health, 2018”)