New York

Study: Students who slip before they succeed still at risk later on

A chart from the report showing how students with very different high school trajectories can end up in the same place academically—at least on paper. Not all high school graduates are created equally: Some had to make up ground after falling behind along the path to graduation day. Identifying those future graduates early could be key to getting them to succeed in college later, according to a new report. The report, authored by researchers with the education nonprofit New Visions for Public Schools, tracked students in 75 New Visions-supported city schools through high school and into college. The report finds that students who graduate with a Regents diploma after years of struggling are much less likely to succeed in college than those students who have a history of good performance. Schools tend to pay special attention to students with obvious obstacles to overcome, such as a disability or status as an English language learner. But students who have a couple of bad semesters in tenth grade and then earn passing grades in their junior year don't always register as being "at risk" to their schools, the report concludes. The report advocates for schools to expand the definition of an "at-risk" student to include any student who has experienced ups and downs—which are marked and reviewed according to a metric system detailed in the study that New Visions schools will continue to use. It also argues that school districts like New York City are pushing schools in this direction by emphasizing schools' graduation rate as the main benchmark of success. "We're trying to take the conversation and say, every kid, whether high or low performing, is vulnerable but in a different way," said Susan Fairchild, one of the report's lead authors. "Our accountability structures don't necessarily support schools. We're moving in those direction, but our systems are really based on accumulation, not flow, not how kids actually come into the system."
New York

Annual survey reflects sanguine views of school performance

A slide from the Department of Education's presentation of this year's Learning Environment Survey results shows teachers' responses to questions about their evaluations. Results of the city's annual survey of what parents, students and teachers think about their schools paints a much rosier picture than data on school performance indicate. It also offers a rosier picture of teachers' views of their evaluation system than both city and union officials have painted in the past. This year, 94 percent of parents said they were "satisfied" with their children's education, and 95 percent of students said they have to "work hard to get good grades" — figures city officials touted as a sign that the schools are becoming more rigorous. Answering a new question, 94 percent of teachers said their school "does a good job supporting students who aspire to go to 2- or 4-year colleges." Those responses suggest that city parents, students, and teachers remain sanguine about their schools even as the city and state have mounted a concerted effort to raise expectations. The Learning Environment Survey results, which the city published today, come on the heels of annual state test scores that showed for the second straight year that fewer than half of the city's third through eighth graders are reading at grade level. And while the city's "college-readiness" rate inched up since it was first announced last year, only about a quarter of students meet the city's and state's standards. The survey results do signal that some schools are beginning to ask more of their students. Since 2009, the proportion of high school students who say they are receiving "helpful" college and career counseling has risen from 74 to 82 percent. And while the number of students reporting sophisticated research or essay assignments barely budged, the number who said they had been asked to "complete an essay or project where [they] had to use evidence to defend [their] own opinion or ideas" three or more times increased sharply, from 62 percent in 2011 to 67 percent this year.
New York

Schools picked to pioneer college prep program for young men

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks at And thean Expanded Success Initiative announcement. And then there were 40. Earlier this year the Department of Education named 81 schools that could be eligible to lead one of the most significant educational programs in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative. Last month, 57 schools submitted proposals for the pot of funds attached to the program,  called the Expanded Success Initiative. The funds would go toward programs to improve the college readiness rates of male students. The 40 schools that made the cut were named today. They will receive $250,000 each to pioneer new college-readiness strategies. Monitors will evaluate the progress the schools make over the course of the coming year and provide feedback for what may eventually become citywide policies. The schools were selected because they have already made strides serving youth of color, but they are still struggling to meet the city's new college readiness metrics, officials said. To be eligible, schools were required to have a four-year graduation rate above 65 percent, to have received an A or B on their most recent progress reports, and to have student bodies comprised of at least 35 percent are black or Latino males and 60 percent are qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. "You have done well in your high school graduation rate, but now we've redefined  the message, along with the state,"  Chancellor Dennis Walcott told an audience of school leaders and students at an event today welcoming schools to the initiative. "It's no longer just about high school graduation, it's about college and career readiness, making sure all of our students can attain that high goal."
New York

In pursuit of college readiness, a course about "Assimilation"

Mitch Kurz leads students through a true/false quiz about the psychology of dreams. Mitch Kurz is a math teacher and a college counselor, but the lessons he teaches don't fall neatly into either subject area. On a recent winter morning, Kurz asked students in his college readiness class to describe their dreams. On the board, he wrote, "What do your dreams mean?" followed by "Sigmund Freud" and a list of vocabulary words more typical of a Psychology 101 class: id, ego, superego. Most of Kurz's two dozen South Bronx juniors and seniors had not heard of these concepts before. But after a semester learning a hodgepodge of lessons from Kurz meant to ease the transition to college — covering everything from the dreidel game, to basic French, to the elevator pitch — students say they come into class expecting the unfamiliar. The class, which Kurz calls "Assimilation," is meant to ease the transition to college for students at the Bronx Center for Science and Math, a small school with many poor students who would be the first in their families to attend college. The school emphatically urges all graduates to enroll in college, and the vast majority do — but they suffer the same academic and financial challenges that low-income, first-generation students often face. Nationally, 89 percent of those students who enter college leave without a degree within six years. Increasing students' likelihood of graduating from college has emerged as a major frontier in education policy. The city's approach is to toughen high school preparation so students have a better shot of handling the rigor of college-level work. Others, such as the KIPP network of charter schools, believe the problem lies more in students' capacity to handle challenges and have developed programs to bolster traits such as resilience and "grit" that seem correlated with college success. At Kurz's school, academic standards are important, and so is character. But Kurz adds an additional approach.
New York

City officials say college readiness rate should double by 2016

Students from the Urban Youth Collaborative present suggestions to boost college readiness before a City Council hearing on the subject. By 2016, the proportion of students who graduate from city high schools ready for college-level work will double, Department of Education officials told skeptical City Council members today. The ambitious projection, made during a hearing on college and career readiness, would require growth that far outstrips even the most liberal assessments of the Department of Education's recent record of improvement. But even then most students would not be considered "college-ready." In 2010, when the city touted a 61 percent four-year graduation rate, just 21 percent of students who had entered high school in four years earlier met the state's college-readiness requirements. A disjuncture has long been visible between what city high schools require for graduation and what the City University of New York expects from new students. Three quarters of the students enrolling in CUNY's two-year colleges must take remedial math or reading classes, and that number has risen along with college attendance rates in recent years, especially as CUNY has toughened its standards. Testifying before members of the council's committees on education and higher education, UFT President Michael Mulgrew accused the city of practicing "social graduation" by giving high school diplomas to students who must repeat high school-level work before starting college classes. But until recently, high school graduation, not college readiness, was considered the gold standard for success testified Shael Polakow-Suransky, the DOE's chief academic officer. He said school officials had been adjusting their priorities to meet rising expectations and were confident that initiatives already underway would substantially change the picture. In particular, he said, new curriculum standards known as the Common Core that are being rolled out this year would push students to develop critical thinking skills required for college-level work.
New York

DOE: College-readiness data could take toll on reports next year

Although the city’s new college readiness metrics were not factored into high school progress reports this year, they will be next year—and schools that don’t prepare could see drops in their grades, city officials said. The new data points are one of the Department of Education's answers to increased scrutiny on how public schools are preparing students for college. Criticisms have mounted against city schools for graduating students who are not college-bound, or require large doses of remedial coursework when they get to college. But Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer, said they will not be factored into the schools’ scores until next fall because the Department of Education wants educators to have time to adjust their curriculums to meet those standards. Until the city completely rolls out new Common Core standards, he said, instructors will have to walk a fine line between preparing students for state exams, which often require broad but shallow knowledge, and simulating college-level work with more writing assignments and long-term projects. “We’re not waiting for the state to change its assessments, but it is a real dilemma that teachers and students face until that change occurs,” he said. “You can play around with the cut scores, but until you actually change what you ask kids to do, until you ask them to do more writing, more critical thinking, more problem-solving, engage with more rigorous texts, you’re not changing the standard. That’s the real work.” The department hasn't decided yet how to factor the new data points into progress report scores, Polakow-Suransky said. But he said expected the college readiness metrics to bring many grades down next year.