First Person

Need for remediation can be spotted early, study finds

The Colorado departments of education and higher education jointly released a study recently showing students who need remediation or who were on track toward postsecondary readiness could have been identified by looking at student achievement results from as early as sixth grade.

In a first analysis that bridges student performance data from the K-12 system to higher education, the analysis looked at the remediation needs of 17,500 students who graduated from Colorado high schools in the spring of 2009 and who then entered Colorado postsecondary institutions in the fall of the same year. Most of these students attended Colorado middle schools in 2003 (sixth-grade: 15,079) and 2005 (eighth-grade: 15,979).

The authors of the research concluded that there was “a high degree” of agreement between sixth-grade student assessment results and the need for remediation in the first year of college. Remediation is the process colleges use to bring basic skills—such as in reading, writing and mathematics—up to college levels so students stay on track to complete standard degree requirements.

The report, “Shining A Light On Remediation,” concludes that the combination of results from the ACT, a college entrance exam, and 10th-grade CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) “clearly identified most of the students who needed remediation” in their first year of postsecondary education.

“By examining assessment results from as early as the sixth-grade,” the report states, “it was also clear that if students were not proficient on the state assessment at that time they were very likely to require remediation later when they entered college.”

Use of data urged

The report urges use of the data to make adjustments for students who are behind.

“If middle schools were to use the state assessment data to identify low performers, they would better know which students would be very likely be postsecondary ready and which students would not. The assessment results could also be used to target the academic skills of struggling students early in middle school to focus on preparing them to be postsecondary ready,” the report states.

Dianne Lefly, director of research and evaluation at the Colorado Department of Education, said the analysis confirms the validity of CSAP and ACT as reliable indicators of student performance in college.

“We have known for a long time that ACT and CSAP results are highly correlated,” said Lefly. “This analysis confirms that those assessments are useful and can be used accordingly by educators.”

Co-authors of the report include Cheryl D. Lovell, chief academic officer for the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and Jo O’Brien, assistant commissioner, CDE.

Lefly noted the study would not have been possible without Senate Bill 08-212, the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (or CAP4K).  Under that bill, CDE and the Colorado Department of Higher Education jointly developed and adopted a description of “postsecondary and workforce readiness” that defines the essential knowledge, skills and behaviors common to high school graduation, college entrance and workforce readiness.

Legislation paves way for more research

One core idea of the legislation was to create a seamless experience for students transitioning out of high school. To that end, the legislation directed postsecondary institutions to use the same state-assigned student identification number that’s used in the K-12 system as an alternate identifier to their own numbers, allowing for data to be shared.

“Colorado educators have never been in a position until now to examine how well the CSAP results are predictive of college remediation needs,” the report states.

In 2009, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education reported that 29.3 percent of students who enrolled in a postsecondary institution in Colorado for the first time required remediation in basic content areas of reading, writing and mathematics.  Students attending two-year institutions needed considerably more remediation (52.7 percent) than did students attending four-year schools (19.9 percent).

The report analyzes results from what’s known as the ACT for Colorado – which all high school juniors complete under the state’s assessment system.  The report also follows students who scored proficient or above – and those below proficiency – on the 2003 sixth-grade CSAP.  In reading, for instance, there were 1,199 students as sixth-graders who applied and were accepted six years later to two-year institutions of higher education and who also required remediation. Of those students, 66.3 percent (795 students) scored below proficiency in sixth-grade reading while 33.7 percent (404 students) did not.

Looking at the same group of sixth-graders who were bound for two-year institutions but those who did not require remediation, 14.7 percent (330 students) scored below proficiency on CSAP while 85.3 percent (1,913 students) scored at proficiency or above.

A similar trend was apparent for the sixth-grade students who took CSAP in sixth-grade and were bound for a four-year institution. Here, students who ended up needing remediation in college were drawn almost equally from those who scored below proficiency (47.8 percent) and those proficient or above (52.2 percent) but 93.7 percent of students (10,431 in all) who needed no remediation also scored at proficient or above on the sixth-grade reading assessment.

The report also analyzes similar results for mathematics and across various subgroups by gender, ethnicity, among English learners and non-English learners and among students with disabilities and those with no disabilities.

Want to know about the remediation rates at your child’s high school or district? Click on this searchable database.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.

First Person

I was an attorney representing school districts in contract talks. Here’s why I hope the Supreme Court doesn’t weaken teachers unions.

PHOTO: Creative Commons / supermac1961

Many so-called education reformers argue that collective bargaining — and unions — are obstacles to real change in education. It’s common to hear assertions about how “restrictive” contracts and “recalcitrant” unions put adult interests over children’s.

The underlying message: if union power were minimized and collective bargaining rights weakened or eliminated, school leaders would be able to enact sweeping changes that could disrupt public education’s status quo.

Those that subscribe to this view are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. At issue is the constitutionality of “agency” or “fair share” fees — employee payroll deductions that go to local unions, meant to cover the costs of negotiating and implementing a bargaining agreement.

In states that permit agency fees (there are about 20), a teacher may decline to be part of a union but must still pay those fees. If the Supreme Court rules that those agency fees are unconstitutional, and many teachers do not voluntarily pay, local unions will be deprived of resources needed to negotiate and enforce bargaining agreements.

Based on my experience as an attorney representing school districts in bargaining and contract issues, I have this to say to those hoping the Court will strike down these fees: be careful what you wish for.

Eliminating fair share fees (and trying to weaken unions) represents a misguided assumption about bargaining — that the process weakens school quality. To the contrary, strong relationships with unions, built through negotiations, can help create the conditions for student and school success. Indeed, in my experience, the best superintendents and school boards seized bargaining as an opportunity to advance their agenda, and engaged unions as partners whenever possible.

Why, and how, can this work? For one, the process of negotiations provides a forum for school leaders and teachers to hear one another’s concerns and goals. In my experience, this is most effective in districts that adopt “interest-based bargaining,” which encourages problem-solving as starting point for discussions as opposed to viewing bargaining as a zero-sum game.

Interest-based bargaining begins with both sides listing their major concerns and brainstorming solutions. The touchstone for a solution to be adopted in a bargaining agreement: Is the proposal in the best interests of children? This important question, if embedded in the process, forces both sides to carefully consider their shared mission.

For example, some districts I worked with paid teachers less than comparable neighboring districts did. It would have been unreasonable for unions to insist that their pay be increased enough to even that difference out, because that would mean reducing investments in other items of importance to children, like technology or infrastructure. At the same time, it would have been untenable for management to play “hard ball” and deny the problem, because to do so would likely lead to a disgruntled workforce.

Instead, both sides were forced to “own” the issue and collaboratively craft plausible solutions. That made unions more agreeable to proposals that demonstrated some commitment by the district to addressing the issue of pay, and districts open to other things that they could provide without breaking the budget (like more early release days for professional development).

To be sure, many school administrators could get frustrated with the process of bargaining or having to consult the negotiated agreement when they want to make a change. Some districts would very much like to adopt an extended school day, for example, but they know that they must first consult and negotiate such an idea with the union.

Yet, in districts where school administrators had built a reservoir of goodwill through collective bargaining, disagreement does not come at the cost of operating schools efficiently. Both sides come to recognize that while they inevitably will disagree on some things, they can also seek agreement — and often do on high-stakes matters, like teacher evaluations.

How does this relate to the Supreme Court’s pending decision? Without fees from some teachers, unions may lack the resources to ensure that contract negotiations and enforcement are robust and done well. This could create a vicious cycle: teachers who voluntarily pay fees for bargaining in a post-Janus world, assuming the court rules against the unions, will view such payments as not delivering any return on investment. In turn, they will stop contributing voluntarily, further degrading the quality of the union’s services.

Even more troubling, if fair share fees are prohibited, resentment and internal strife will arise between those who continue to pay the fees and those who refuse. This would undercut a primary benefit of bargaining — labor peace and a sense of shared purpose.

Speaking as a parent, this raises a serious concern: who wants to send their child to a school where there is an undercurrent of bitterness between teachers and administrators that will certainly carry over into the classroom?

It is easy to see the appeal of those opposing agency fees. No one wants to see more money going out of their paycheck. The union-as-bogeyman mentality is pervasive. Moreover, in my experience, some teachers (especially the newer ones) do not recognize the hidden benefits to bargaining contracts.

But, obvious or not, agency fees help promote a stable workplace that allows teachers to concentrate on their primary responsibility: their students. Removing the key ingredient threatens this balance.

Mark Paige is a former school teacher and school law attorney who represented school districts in New England. He is currently an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth.