Assessing Collegiate Readiness
Measure the higher-order skills students need to succeed in secondary school, college, and careers with a performance-based collegiate readiness assessment.
Are Your Students Ready for Their Next Steps?
Content knowledge is no longer sufficient for college and career success. There are many other skills and qualities that students need, including critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration, just to name a few. These higher-order skills have become increasingly important in today’s rapidly changing world.
According to one participant of focus groups with managers of recent college graduates conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities in 2022, “When they graduate, it is vital that they can critically think their way through a problem and do not need to be told what to do next. Doesn’t matter if I am selling widgets or providing a service—a problem is a problem. Most can be dissected in a critical thinking manner regardless of how familiar they are with the subject matter.”
Employers are making it clear what skills they want and need to adapt and thrive in the innovation economy, making it imperative that schools, districts, and higher education institutions prioritize assessing and building students’ higher-order skills. Regardless of whether students graduate from high school and enter the workforce, pursue higher education or technical training, or join the military, they will need strong higher-order skills in order to be successful.
What Is College and Career Readiness?
College readiness refers to a student’s ability to succeed in college-level coursework without the need for remedial education. It means that a student has developed the knowledge, skills, and mindset necessary to excel in college-level courses. This includes a strong foundation in core academic subjects such as math, reading, and writing. But it also includes the development of higher-order skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication.
Career readiness refers to the training and skills that a person needs to be successful in a particular career. It includes not only technical skills and industry knowledge, but also higher-order skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork. Career readiness also involves the ability to adapt to changes in the job market and being a competitive and productive member of the workforce.
Both college and career readiness rely on academic knowledge and industry-related skills, but they also require higher-order skills, also referred to as future-ready, durable, and soft skills. Higher-order skills are a set of cognitive abilities that go beyond memorizing facts. Higher-order skills require individuals to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information to make sound judgments and solve complex problems.
Examples of higher-order skills include creativity, innovation, strategic thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in new and unfamiliar situations. These skills are becoming increasingly important in the modern workforce, where automation and artificial intelligence are replacing many routine and repetitive tasks.
- Students who perform better on CAE assessments tend to have higher cumulative GPAs than those who take traditional higher education entrance assessments (Zahner et al., 2016).
- Students who perform better on CAE’s Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) are more likely to have positive outcomes after higher education, as measured by employment, salary, and enrollment in graduate school (Zahner, James, & Lehrfeld, 2022).
- Managers and advisors are more likely to give higher evaluations to students who perform well on the CLA+ (Zahner, James, & Lehrfeld, 2022).
Higher-order skills are in high-demand by employers:
- A global survey conducted by McKinsey in 2020 found that 90% of executives and managers either already saw skills gaps in their organizations or expected those gaps to develop soon.
- A six-year international research study conducted by CAE and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that 60% of students who enroll in colleges and universities lack proficiency in higher-order skills. Additionally, the study revealed that 44% of students who graduate from these institutions still do not have the necessary skills.
- According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are considered the most crucial abilities that employers believe will gain more significance in the next five years. This has remained consistent since the first survey conducted in 2016. Additionally, these skills are also listed among the top 10 Skills of 2025, according to the same report.
How Collegiate Readiness Assessments Can Better Prepare Students for Post-Secondary Success
Ensuring that all students are prepared for college and career success is a complex task that requires a multifaceted approach. Of course, a crucial part of this endeavor is ensuring that students meet the academic requirements to graduate high school. However, another important element is equipping students with higher-order skills that complement academic knowledge.
Many states and districts are taking steps to prioritize higher-order skills by creating Portrait of a Graduate profiles that outline the traits, skills, and competencies that students will need the most to be successful in adult life. In order for Portrait of a Graduate goals to be met, educators need data to identify students’ strengths and areas for growth with skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication. Collegiate readiness assessments like CAE’s performance-based College and Career Readiness Assessment (CLA+) provide educators with actionable data to guide instruction to help students develop their higher-order skills.
Additionally, educators, including U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, are advocating for the reimagining of assessments in K–12 with the goal of moving away from “fill-in-the-bubble” tests that measure memorization to performance- and competency-based assessments that require students to apply the knowledge they’re learning.
The Importance of Prioritizing Collegiate Readiness
Every student develops higher-order thinking skills at a different rate, but generally, learning these skills is a gradual process that begins in early childhood and continues through adolescence and into adulthood.
While awareness of the importance of these skills to post-secondary success is growing, many schools are still not explicitly teaching them. As a result, 60% of entering college students lack proficiency in higher-order skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication.
This is a worrying trend, especially because many students today are choosing alternative paths such as trade schools, job or training programs, and non-college degree programs. As the post-secondary educational landscape evolves, it is no longer safe to assume that students will learn higher-order skills while in college. It is important to equip them with employability skills before they graduate from high school.
Measure and Teach Higher-Order Skills with a Performance-Based Collegiate Readiness Assessment
Schools, districts, and higher education institutions can effectively measure students’ higher-order skills with quality collegiate readiness assessment tools, especially those that are performance-based assessments. Unlike standardized measurement tools such as multiple choice assessments, performance-based assessments measure how well a person can apply their knowledge and skills in real-life situations.
Performance-based collegiate readiness assessments often require students to perform a task or complete a project that is similar to what they would encounter in their future job or career. They are designed to evaluate a student’s ability to use their knowledge and skills effectively, rather than just testing their ability to memorize information.
CAE’s Collegiate Readiness Assessment Tools
CAE offers performance-based collegiate readiness assessments: College and Career Readiness Assessment (CCRA+) for secondary education and Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) for higher education. Both versions authentically measure students’ college and career readiness skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, and effective written communication.
CAE also offers actionable data reports that can be utilized for both formative and summative purposes. These reports are helpful in evaluating a student’s progress in developing higher-order skills at the start and/or end of a specific class or academic year. Additionally, they can be used to measure growth over multiple years.
Our instructional materials complement these assessments and reports by providing engaging activities and practice models that improve higher-order skills, thus preparing students for college and career success.
How CAE’s Performance-Based Collegiate Readiness Assessments Work
CAE collegiate readiness assessments go beyond multiple choice. They identify student strengths with higher-order skills, reveal opportunities for improvement, and provide reliable insights to students, educators, and institutions.
To assess students’ readiness for their next steps, our performance-based assessments situate students in real-world scenarios that require purposeful written responses. Students are asked to address issues, propose solutions to problems, and recommend courses of action appropriate to resolving conflicts.
They are instructed to support their responses by utilizing information provided within the assessment, which may include reference materials such as technical reports, data tables, newspaper articles, office memoranda, and emails. There is no single “correct” answer, and scores reflect a range of plausible and effective response strategies – a process that, by design, mimics real-world, complex decision environments.
Students are challenged to:
- Analyze and understand data
- Evaluate the credibility of various documents
- Identify questionable or critical assumptions
- Deal with inadequate, ambiguous, and conflicting information
- Identify additional information that would help resolve issues
- Construct an organized and logically cohesive argument by providing elaboration on facts or ideas (e.g., explaining how evidence bears on the problem, providing examples, and emphasizing especially convincing evidence)
- Organize and synthesize information from several sources
- Draw on evidence from different sources in a written response.
Preview Sample Collegiate Readiness Assessments and Instructional Tools
Performance-Based Collegiate Readiness Assessments
CAE’s CCRA+ and CLA+ performance-based assessments evaluate students’ proficiency with higher-order skills. The assessments present real-world scenarios and ask students to recommend solutions that require critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication. Take a look at these sample collegiate readiness assessments to get a better understanding of how they work.
Collegiate Readiness Reports
CAE’s collegiate readiness reports offer actionable insights into students’ strengths and areas for growth. This helps tailor instruction, programs, and support to further develop these important skills. Check out our sample student and institution reports.
Student reports provide each student with a summary of their results, detailing which soft skills they’re strongest in and which have room for growth. Students receive their current mastery level, skills and subskills scores along with a comparison of peers within their institution and across CAE’s U.S. norm sample. These data can be used as a roadmap to guide students and educators in charting a course to develop the skills needed to achieve their academic and career goals.
Institution reports provide an overview of a school, district, or higher education institution’s scores in aggregate form. They show how the scores compare to CAE’s validated, normed sample, and which soft skills should be prioritized for instruction. Educators and data teams can use these data to plan instruction and target interventions that will better prepare students for their futures.
Collegiate Readiness Instructional Tools
Preview our collegiate readiness classroom activities and instructional tools and see how they help students learn and build higher-order skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication.