Struggling for Students’ Readiness

The majority of Texas students do not leave public schools prepared for college.

Fewer than one in two students met the state’s “college readiness” standards in math and verbal skills on ACT, SAT and TAKS scores in 2010. Though average SAT scores in both verbal and math dropped between 2007 and 2010 — a trend that state education officials have attributed to an increase in students taking the test — more students in the same period of time have met the state’s standards for college-ready graduates, largely because of improvements on their state standardized tests and the ACT.

But that increase is only a slim silver lining in what appears to be a large storm cloud.

“It’s still pathetic,” Dominic Chavez, a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spokesman, said of the ACT scores. “It’s still a very low number, and nobody is satisfied with it.”

Getting to a number that is satisfying is a task that policy makers, educators and the business community have grappled with for years. And although the current data show that something is not going right, pinpointing why is difficult. Part of the trouble is that while it is easy to define what skills students need to be successful in college, so far the measures used to assess the ways they lack those skills have returned an incomplete picture.

Debates over lagging performance at community colleges and four-year institutions can devolve into finger-pointing between the higher education and K-12 camps, each blaming the other for students’ poor performance at the postsecondary level. (Read more.)

Via Morgan Smith, The New York Times.

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Learning Matters: Rethinking Basic Skills In Community Colleges (2012)

According to Stan Jones of Complete College America, U.S. taxpayers are spending close to $3 billion per year on supporting remedial classes at the community college level. Remedial courses — designed to help students catch up, and often taken on a non-credit basis — often aren’t successful at preparing students for their primary, credit-earning coursework.

At the same time, though, the presence of remedial classes is often a cash cow for the colleges; the courses can end up providing funding to other areas.

What can be done to improve the situation? Producer John Tulenko traveled to two community colleges in Maryland that are taking different approaches to the problem.

Via You Tube.

Rethinking Placement Tests

Colleges are rethinking placement exams, concludes a new Jobs for the Future report, Where to Begin? Researchers have found that placement exams have very high stakes and are weak predictors of college success. Furthermore, it’s not clear that developmental classes improve student outcomes. “Many students required to take remedial classes could have succeeded in college-level coursework,” recent studies suggest.

Math and English assessments provide at best a narrow picture of students’ readiness for college. Placement tests do not measure many of the skills needed for college success—including persistence, motivation, and critical thinking. And only some students need most of the assessed math skills.

Some colleges in New Jersey and California are relying less on placement test results and more on high school grades or other measures of college readiness.

Also being explored are practices such as mainstreaming students into college-level courses with extra support, basing placement on students’ academic goals, and allowing them to make their own placement decisions.

Florida and Virginia are aligning assessments to their curricula instead of using off-the-shelf tests. Texas hopes to develop a  diagnostic assessment to evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses. In the future may be assessments of students’ cognitive strategies, such as critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as on-cognitive factors such as persistence and motivation.

Until recently, students were advised not to bother studying for college placement exams. Now high schools and colleges are trying to help students prepare for the tests.

In some high schools, juniors take college placement tests to provide an early warning of what college requires and chance to catch up in 12th grade. Community colleges also are trying to help prospective students brush up on math or English skills before they’re placed in developmental classes.

Via Joanne Jacobs, Community College Spotlight.

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Long Beach City College Tries an Alternative to Placement Tests

Edward Yacuta felt rushed and nervous when he took a test to determine whether he was ready for college-level English classes at Long Beach City College.

The 18-year-old did poorly on the exam, even though he was getting good grades in an Advanced Placement English class at Long Beach’s Robert A. Millikan High School.

Most community colleges would assign students like Yacuta to a remedial class, but he will avoid that fate at Long Beach. The two-year school is trying out a new system this fall that will place students who graduated from the city’s high schools in courses based on their grades rather than their scores on the standardized placement tests.

Long Beach is in the forefront of a movement in community colleges nationwide to reassess the use of placement tests for incoming students.

The issue is especially acute in California, where about 85% of students entering a two-year college are assigned to remedial English classes and 73% to remedial math, mostly based on placement tests. Only about one-third of those students go on to earn an associate degree or transfer to a four-year college, according to California’s community college system.

Remedial classes — sometimes referred to as developmental or basic education — typically don’t offer credit that counts toward graduation. Many students must take multiple levels of remedial courses to catch up. And some research indicates that remedial courses don’t adequately prepare students for more advanced courses. (Read more.)

Via Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times.

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ACT to Roll Out Career and College Readiness Tests for 3rd-10th Grades

ACT Inc. announced today that it is developing a new series of assessments for every grade level, from 3rd through 10th, to measure skills needed in college and careers.

The tests, which would be administered digitally and provide instant feedback to teachers, will be piloted in states this fall and scheduled to be launched in 2014, says Jon Erickson, the president of education for ACT, the Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit testing company.

The “next generation” assessment will be pegged to the Common Core State Standards and cover the four areas now on the ACT: English, reading, math, and science.

“It connects all the grades—elementary school through high school—to measure growth and development,” says Erickson. “It informs teaching, as students progress, to intervene at early ages.”

The assessment would look beyond academics to get a complete picture of the whole student, he says. There would be interest inventories for students, as well as assessment of behavioral skills for students and teachers to evaluate. (Read more, including the comments.)

Via Caralee Adams, Education Week.

It will fill a niche as the first digital, longitudinal assessment to connect student performance across grades, both in and out of the classroom, according to the ACT. The hope is to get information on students’ weaknesses and strengths earlier so teachers can make adjustments to improve their chances of success.

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