New CCRS Center Brief: Predictors of Postsecondary Success

This month the College and Career Readiness and Success Center (CCRS Center) released a brief titled Predictors of Postsecondary Success. Prepared in collaboration with Quill Research Associates, LLC, the brief identifies measures of student characteristics (e.g., behaviors, skills) which predict future academic and workplace success. Drawing on more than 80 research studies, the brief focuses on measures that span early childhood to postsecondary and pays particular attention to measures drawn from readily available data that schools, districts, and states are likely to have. Results are divided into education levels with tables detailing measures and sources:

  • Within the elementary school research literature, we did not find studies that identify indicators of postsecondary success. However, research did identify two elementary school indicators that predict proximal, future academic success: (1) achieving literacy by the third grade is correlated with reading and English language arts (ELA) proficiency on state assessments at the middle grades level (ACT, 2008; Silver & Saunders, 2008), and (2) students in Grades K–3 who are absent fewer than 10 percent of the time are more likely to be promoted to the next grade and to receive higher grades in core subject areas (Chang & Mariajose, 2008).
  • At the middle grades level, we found a number of measures correlated with secondary-level success. For example, passing all ELA and mathematics courses in the fifth and sixth grades are correlated with meeting benchmarks on assessments in future grades. In addition, The College Board has established college preparatory exam thresholds for middle grades students that correlate with high school academic success, such as meeting benchmark scores on state-administered proficiency tests in core subject areas and enrollment in honors and accelerated courses (ACT, 2008; Silver & Saunders, 2008).
  • At the high school level, the most frequently noted indicators of future postsecondary success are high attendance rates, grade point average (GPA), and test scores on state and national assessments. In addition, participation in specific course-taking pathways or college preparatory programming is a correlate with future success. For example, the completion of Algebra I in the eighth grade and Algebra II no later than the tenth grade is inversely correlated with the need for remediation at the postsecondary level (CRIS Annenberg Institute for School Reform, 2010; Klepfer & Hull, 2012; Lee, 2012, 2013). In addition, the submission of both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and a college application, coupled with immediate, full-time enrollment in a postsecondary academic or career-focused program, also are positively correlated with postsecondary persistence (Nagaoka et al., 2009).
  • On track indicators for postsecondary success include high GPA, adequate credit load, and passing general education courses without the need for remediation within the first two years of college (Moore & Shulock, 2009; Roderick, Nagaoka, & Coca, 2009). Maintaining a 3.0 GPA or higher and attending college full-time, as defined by earning 30 credits within the first year, are correlated with on-time degree completion (Leinbach & Jenkins, 2008). For adult education, two indicators for success have been identified: obtaining a GED and receiving a Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems (CASAS)[i] composite score above 256 (Wachen, Jenkins, & Van Noy, 2010).

The brief concludes with reflections on the research, as well as recommendations for indicator development and use.  Importantly, the brief suggests that the development of a reliable set of indicators will provide states, districts, and schools as well as students and their families with the ability to map and track students along a trajectory that leads to long-term and transferable success. The set of indicators also will inform the development of tools that will allow students and their families to see where students are on a trajectory toward a particular goal.

Becky Smerdon is a deputy director and federal technical assistance network liaison for the College and Career Readiness and Success Center. She is also founder and managing director of Quill Research Associates, LLC.


ACT. (2008). The forgotten middle: Ensuring that all students are on track for college and career readiness before high school. Iowa City, IA: Author.

Chang, H. N., & Mariajose, R. (2008). Present, engaged and accounted for: The critical importance of addressing chronic absence in the early grades. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty.

CRIS Annenberg Institute for School Reform. (2010). Leading Indicator Spotlight Series. Webinar.

Klepfer, K., & Hull, J. (2012). High school rigor and good advice: Setting up students to succeed. Alexander, VA: The Center for Public Education. Retrieved from http://www. Setting-up-students-to-succeed/High-school-rigor-and-good-advice-Setting-upstudents-to-succeed-Full-Report.pdf

Lee, J. (2012). College for all: Gaps between desirable and actual P–12 math achievement trajectories for college readiness. Educational Researcher, 41(2), 43–55.

Lee, J. (2013). College for all: Gaps between desirable and actual P–12 math achievement trajectories for college readiness. Educational Researcher, 42(2), 78–88.

Leinbach, D. T., & Jenkins, D. (2008). Using longitudinal data to increase community college student success: A guide to measuring milestone and momentum point attainment. New York: Community College Research Center, Columbia University.

Moore, C., & Shulock, N. (2009). Student progress toward degree completion: Lessons from the research literature. Sacramento, CA: Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy, California State University.

Nagaoka, J., Roderick, M., & Coca, V. (2009). Barriers to college attainment: Lessons from Chicago. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Roderick, M., Nagaoka, J., & Coca, V. (2009). College readiness for all: The challenge for urban high schools. The Future of Children, 19(1), 185–210.

Silver, D., & Saunders, M. (2008). What factors predict high school graduation in the Los Angeles unified school district? Santa Barbara, CA: University of California.

Wachen, J., Jenkins, D., & Van Noy, M. (2010). How I-BEST works: Findings from a field study of Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program. New York: Community College Research Center, Columbia University.

[i][i] The CASAS assessment was designed to measure adult mathematics, reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in order to identify career pathways that are best suited to their abilities.


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