California Limits Role of Student Tests in API Scores

California’s key measure of public school quality will be redefined to lessen the impact of standardized test scores under a bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The law, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), will broaden how the Academic Performance Index is calculated by limiting test scores to 60% for high schools and including graduation rates and other factors.

The 1,000-point index, which is currently based entirely on student test scores, has been criticized as an inaccurate gauge of campus quality even as it is widely used by parents to choose schools and real estate agents to sell homes.

“For years, ‘teaching to the test’ has become more than a worn cliche because 100% of the API relied on bubble tests scores in limited subject areas,” Steinberg said in a statement. “But life is not a bubble test and that system has failed our kids.”

Test scores must count for at least 60% of the API for elementary and middle schools, where alternative data are less developed.

Under the new law, the state Board of Education will work with the state superintendent of public instruction to incorporate other factors into the index, such as student readiness for college and technical training. The law specifies an increased emphasis on science and social science, which carry little weight in the current API. (Read more.)

Via Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times found on Education Week.

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College Admissions Season Begins With Launch of 2012-13 Common Application

Rising high school seniors who want to get a jump on their college applications should know that the Common Application used by more than 450 colleges and universities has just gone live for the 2012-13 admissions season.

That means students can start to officially fill out their applications, getting the tedious work of filling out names and dates and other details done so they can work on their essays.

For the record, the Common App was launched on Tuesday night, four hours ahead of schedule, and within 30 minutes, 300 individuals had registered an account, the Web site reported. “The first registration came from Plano, TX, less than one minute after the site went live,” it said.

The Common Application is a not-for-profit organization that provides an admission application — online and in print — that students may submit to any of the member schools that accept it.

The Common Application was developed in 1975 as a way to cut down on the number of separate applications and essays a student applying to numerous colleges and universities would have to complete. As it turns out, even with the Common App, many schools ask for additional information, including extra essays.

These are the Common App essay instructions and prompts for freshman applicants:

Please write an essay of 250-500 words on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below, and attach it to your application before submission. Please indicate your topic by checking the appropriate box. This personal essay helps us become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself. NOTE: Your Common Application essay should be the same for all colleges. Do not customize it in any way for individual colleges. Colleges that want customized essay responses will ask for them on a supplement form.

* Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

* Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

* Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

* Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music or science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

* A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

* Topic of your choice.

Via Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post.

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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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Admissions ‘Acceleration’ Causes Concern for College and High-School Officials, NACAC Survey Finds

Many admissions officers and high school counselors are concerned about the “acceleration” of the admissions process, according to a report released Thursday by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

The association, known as NACAC, found that among its members, more than half of admissions officers believe that “earlier” application and admission processes increase stress among applicants. Nearly three-quarters of high-school counselors think that earlier and earlier recruitment has made students more and more anxious. Today, nearly half of colleges start sending mailings to prospective applicants during their sophomore year of high school, a fifth initiate contact with students during their freshman year, and nearly one in 10 send marketing materials to students in the eighth grade or earlier.

Those findings come from the association’s continuing inquiry into “early notification,” the practice of extending admission offers before a student’s senior year of high school, including during the second semester of the junior year. Although relatively few four-year colleges admit applicants prior to their senior year—between 7 and 15 percent, according to NACAC—institutions that do so are typically large, public universities with deep applicant pools.

In 2006, NACAC altered its Statement of Principles of Good Practice to advise colleges against notifying applicants before September 15 of their senior year. According to the new report, the association’s leaders concluded that “pre-senior-year admission practices appeared to cross an as-yet-undefined line separating the high school experience (and much of the adolescent-development process) from the college transition.”

Read more.

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