K-12 College and Career Readiness Standards: Transforming Postsecondary Planning

By Leann M. Morgan

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model offers a framework for school counselors to provide students with tools to assess their current interests and form future goals (ASCA, 2012). The ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors encourage additional emphasis to be placed on how students perceive themselves in relation to others and how developing their interpersonal capabilities will lead to current and future academic and personal success (ASCA, 2014). With momentum gained through national movements such ASCA’s statement on school counselors’ responsibility for career and college planning (ASCA, 2013) and the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative (Waldo, 2015), college completion and career readiness has become the focus of many state education agencies and non-profit organizations throughout the U.S. Prior to this movement at the national level, several states had already begun the task of working systemically to improve career and college readiness programming in K-12 schools.


As a result, the Colorado College and Career Readiness (CCR) Standards for School Counselors were developed in 2014 in response to the addition of ASCA's "Mindsets and Behaviors” as a compliment to the ASCA national model. The Colorado Department of Education consequently approved these standards to support every students’ Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP) as the “ICAP Quality Indicators,” which now serve as a means by which to measure postsecondary program effectiveness. In addition to assisting with program evaluation, they also serve as a guide for school counselors in order to ensure every students’ unique career and academic needs are met, especially in the emerging area of financial literacy.


A Developmental Framework


The eight quality indicators include working with students on their personal and social awareness first, before offering traditional career counseling interventions or programming. This model serves as a developmental framework for school counselors to utilize when beginning purposeful career conversations with students and parents alike. By acknowledging that these conversations may begin as early as Kindergarten, school counselors should provide classroom guidance lessons to assist students in discovering their basic likes and dislikes in areas such as outside play versus inside play, playing with things versus people, and traveling far from home versus staying home each day. Providing specific activities which allow students to explore and decide what they like (and do not like) to do and what they find interesting (or uninteresting) while in elementary school helps with more complex analysis of their world as they reach middle school. This process also assists counselors and teachers to better prepare students with transition planning as students move to high school. Indeed, the task of increasing the focus of school counseling programs on career and college readiness may prove challenging, due to the increase in testing responsibility some school counselors face as a result of the outdated “No Child Left Behind Act” (Schenck, Anctil, Smith, & Dahir, 2012), the current status of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2015), and the challenge of teachers unwilling to relinquish instructional time in order for school counselors to provide career guidance (Zunker, 2012).


The exercise of streamlining students’ preferences leads to more meaningful career-related conversations later in their academic career. It also provides consistency in career exploration and development, a transitional framework of sorts, as students work up to more complex workforce readiness necessities as they reach high school and are asked to make tough decisions about their postsecondary plans.


ICAP Quality Indicators

  1. Self-Awareness: Understand how a student’s unique interests, talents and aspirations play a role in decision-making and interpersonal relationships and how individual thoughts and feelings get students excited about life and learning.
  2. Career Awareness: Know the difference between jobs, occupations and careers. Articulate a wide range of local regional, national and global career pathways and opportunities. Consider economic and cultural influences and the impact of stereotypes on career choice.
  3. Postsecondary Aspirations: Participate in career exploration activities centered on students’ passions, interests, dreams and visions of their future self and perceived options.
  4. Postsecondary Options: Be aware of and participate in a variety of postsecondary and career opportunities. Use tools such as career clusters, personality assessments and learning style inventories to highlight individual strengths and capabilities.
  5. Environmental Expectations: Consider how school, family, community, culture and world view might influence the students' career development and postsecondary plans.
  6. Academic Planning: Apply the skills and knowledge necessary to map out and pass the academic courses required to achieve postsecondary goals.
  7. Employability Skills: Define, develop and hone skills that increase the likelihood of becoming and remaining successfully employed and civically responsible citizens.
  8. Financial Literacy: Recognize personal financial literacy and financial aid topics and vocabulary and know what options are available to pay for postsecondary options. Understand and articulate personal financial literacy concepts, the cost of postsecondary options and apply this awareness to the postsecondary career and academic planning process.  (Morgan & Williams, 2014)


How Schools Utilize ICAPs


Denver Public School counselors have developed a community-based set of intervention strategies to engage students and parents in career exploration, development, and planning throughout the K-12 system. Samantha Haviland, Director of Counseling and Student Support Services for Denver Public Schools, views ICAPs as a framework for student success and encourages school counselors to think of the “Quality Indicators” as a step-by-step process for creating and delivering developmental postsecondary planning initiatives for every student. While the indicators were written by Colorado counselor educators, they may be adapted and utilized by school counselors across the U.S., as the issues addressed are not unique to students in just one state.


To see what’s happening in Denver Public Schools, and explore the resources they use, please visit their website. For more postsecondary planning resources, visit the Colorado Community Colleges website , and the Colorado Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary and Workforce Pathways website.


The Role of School Counselors in Postsecondary Success

K-12 school counselors are in the best position to support students’ career and postsecondary planning and create truly comprehensive career and postsecondary programs through curriculum that initially focuses on self-awareness and concludes with developing real-world financial literacy. As a result, students will be knowledgeable about who they are, what they like and dislike, what careers are available to them, and how those careers fit into their family life. In addition, purposeful academic planning, with students’ aspirations in mind, will provide structure around necessary skill development and financial literacy for creating a solid postsecondary plan.


School counselors often look for resources at conferences, on the web, and from other districts within their state, but systemic change comes from finding a structure with research-based information to guide student success. The “Quality Indicators” may provide just such a resource, and be easily incorporated into any comprehensive school counseling program. Students’ career and college readiness needs may be overlooked in traditional programs, but through purposeful programming and compassionate guidance, all students have a chance for career and life success beyond high school.




American School Counselor Association. (2012). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.


American School Counselor Association. (2013). The professional school counselor and academic and college/career planning. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from: www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/PositionStatements/PS_AcademicPlanning.pdf


American School Counselor Association (2014). The ASCA mindsets & behaviors for student success: K-12 college- and career-readiness standards for every student. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from: https://schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/home/MindsetsBehaviors.pdf


Morgan, L. & Williams, R. (2014). High school college and career readiness standards for professional school counselors in Colorado. Colorado Community College System. Author: Denver, CO. Retrieved from https://www.cde.state.co.us/postsecondary/hsqualityindicatorsandelements


Schenck, P. M., Anctil, T. M., Smith, C. K., & Dahir, C. (2012). Coming full circle: Reoccurring career development trends in schools. The Career Development Quarterly, 60(3), 221-230.


U.S. Department of Education. (December 2, 2015). Fact Sheet: Congress Acts to Fix No Child Left Behind. Office of the Press Secretary. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/12/03/fact-sheet-congress-acts-fix-no-child-left-behind


Waldo, E. (January 30, 2015). The White House honors the 2015 school counselor of the year. The White House Blog. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/01/30/white-house-honors-2015-school-counselor-year



Leann Wyrick MorganLeann M. Morgan, Ph.D., LPC, MCC, Associate Professor, Department of Counseling and Human Services, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She can be reached at (719) 255-3112; lmorgan7@uccs.edu and  http://www.uccs.edu/coe/people/faculty/leann-morgan.html


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