PLAN, ACT and WorkKeys Keep Students on Track to Success
August 22, 2012

Starting this year, North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study, corresponding assessments and the new READY accountability model are more directly focused on keeping students on track to graduate high school well-prepared for college and a career. The new curriculum is more rigorous. New tests will require students to think more critically and do more than fill in the correct bubble for multiple choice questions.  And the new high school accountability model incorporates important national assessments to help students make better course selections.

We know that the course choices students make in school help to determine how successful they will be after high school graduation. When students take more rigorous courses, they perform better on college admissions exams and they are more likely to succeed in those first, critical college courses.  

That is why North Carolina’s new accountability model includes three assessments – PLAN, ACT and WorkKeys – that are linked closely to student course taking. Students who perform well on these three assessments that gauge college and career readiness tend to be students who have chosen to take academically challenging courses. The PLAN, which is given to 10th graders, and the ACT, given to 11th graders, can help students see where they have deficiencies and strengths so that they can address them before high school graduation. WorkKeys, given to seniors who have completed a specific Career and Technical Education sequence of courses, also provides a valuable career readiness score.

Why are these important?

Our goal is to reach a point where all students receive more clear information as early as possible regarding their readiness for success in community college and/or a university and a career. Today, too many young graduates decide late in the game that they may want to go to one of North Carolina’s community colleges. Since the community colleges operate under an important open-door policy, students are able to attend the school but may be placed in remedial or developmental courses because of their score on a placement test.

New research calls into question the accuracy of these community college placement exams in identifying students in need of remediation. According to a recent article in Harvard University’s Chronicle of Higher Education, these placement exams are often high-stakes tests that can negatively affect a student’s entire educational trajectory. Research highlighted in this article found that many of the students required to take a remedial course were misplaced and could have succeeded in college-level work without the course. Most troubling perhaps is the finding that many of the students taking developmental classes were less likely to graduate from college.

We should all agree that a student’s success in college should never come down to the results of one test. High school courses and grades also must be given serious consideration when determining if a student is truly ready for college-level coursework. That is one reason why we now require all high school students to take the PLAN, the ACT and WorkKeys. These tests provide colleges with information for advising, placement, and retention while students and their families gain information about personally-relevant career options to support college and career planning.

In North Carolina, we want to remove barriers that keep students from completing college and achieving their goals. To accomplish this, the NCDPI and the NC Community College System have been working together, as a part of the Career and College Promise, to ensure that students have a seamless transition between high school and higher education. Staff members at the NC Community College System also have been working on a study that will help to identify the best predictors of college success and we look forward to the completion of this important work.  I am confident that the NCDPI’s strong partnership with our community colleges, results of this study and a shared commitment to preparing students for a variety of options after graduation will benefit our young people and North Carolina

Community college placement tests may still be useful in some cases, but they should never be a permanent stumbling block to success. So we are starting long before high school in working together to make sure all students graduate prepared for the next step, whether it is higher education, job training or the workforce.




June St. Clair Atkinson
State Superintendent