College and Career Readiness: Are We Measuring What Matters?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
by Nicole Rodriguez Leach, Vice President, 
In today’s global economy, students must be well prepared for the demands of college and the workplace. Entering college ill-prepared can have dire consequences: It is widely known that obtaining a complete and quality college education is of critical importance to a person’s economic mobility and overall well-being, and to the security of their family. It’s also important to city, state and national economies and to a vibrant and thriving democracy.
Educators, policymakers and philanthropists need to question and examine: How do we best prepare young people to enter college ready to meet the academic, socio-emotional and financial demands of college? What benchmarks are important for students and schools to achieve in order to ensure college readiness and success?
Through Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation’s education portfolio, we’re dedicated to improving the outcomes for historically disadvantaged student groups in the New York City public school system. Our resources are deployed to ensure children and youth are in school and ready to learn, and can acquire the knowledge and skills needed to further their talent and be productive in the workforce. In 2009, we launched a three-year demonstration pilot with the Gates Foundation (and later joined by Capital One), College Ready Communities, to leverage the resources of community development corporations to help students prepare for post-secondary education and employment. The initiative sought to increase college knowledge and readiness for students and parents, develop and strengthen the college-ready culture within schools, and answer and deliver on the questions above. (Here is an evaluation of the initiative.)
On March 18, Philanthropy New York’s Education Working Group, the New York City Youth Funders Network and the Donors’ Education Collaborative hosted a session to explore the ways in which systems and schools are looking to assess students’ readiness for college and career — to measure what we know truly matters.
I moderated the session and was joined by a terrific panel, including Jennifer Sattem from the New York State Regents Research Fund; Andrea Soonachan from the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness; and New Visions for Public Schools’ Susan Fairchild.
As we think about the role of the State Education Department (SED) in framing the system in which the City’s Department of Education (DOE) operates, the issues of college and career readiness explored in the session — standards, metrics, alignment and accountability — are central. Ms. Sattem shared work underway at the SED to expand the definition of college and career readiness beyond those single measures (i.e., standardized tests) upon which it currently relies. The refined metrics will include benchmarks for students’ knowledge and skills in multiple domains, including: core academics, non-cognitive/socio-emotional areas and career-specific competencies. SED’s work is still in its early stages.
Though their offices have not worked together to develop and refine standards and metrics, it is clear that SED and DOE are thinking along the same lines in key ways. Ms. Soonachan shared DOE’s metrics for schools, which are part of each school’s Progress Report and include:
  • the availability of and students’ performance in rigorous college preparatory classes available in the school,
  • the percent of the schools’ graduation students who attained a Regents diploma, and
  • the percent of the schools’ graduates who enrolled in college or vocational programs or engaged in public service.
The DOE has also developed metrics for assessing individual students’ college and career readiness across multiple domains: academic mastery defined by the Common Core Learning Standards, academic and personal behaviors, and college and career knowledge and access. While early-stage SED and DOE efforts may be similar, less clear is alignment across the K-12 system.
Both SED and DOE described the difficulty in developing measures for non-cognitive knowledge and skills — resiliency, responsibility, grit — and, to an extent, college and career knowledge. Among the DOE’s challenges and next steps are getting schools to accept responsibility for these outcomes, and providing clear supports to help schools reach them.
Ms. Fairchild explained the ways in which New Visions’ network of schools is tackling the issues and demands outlined by SED and DOE. Data collection and analysis is core to New Visions’ approach to effective student and school support, with clear and critical benchmarks of college and career readiness: high attendance, continuous credit accumulation and high grades. With effective data work, New Visions is working to reconceptualize risk and reimagine early warning, and provide the interventions necessary to best support students.
Impressive work, indeed. But as one of our colleagues remarked, “it is clear [New Visions] is a rock star, but what about the many other schools that do not have the capacity or resources to do this [data collection, student assessment and support for teachers and students] well?”
You can find the presentations from the session here.
The panel presented a unique opportunity to hear from representatives of three connected entities — the state, the district, the school — that, from the outside, sometimes seem to operate independently of one another. While many questions were answered, it is also clear that much more thinking and work needs to be done, particularly in ways to assess non-cognitive skill development. And there are multiple touch points among us funders.
On Wednesday, April 17, an engaging follow-up session was held. The “Grit” Factor: How Community Organizations Support Students for College Success was organized by the Education Working Group of Philanthropy New York and The New York City Youth Funders Network, and nicely moderated by Carol Van Atten of the Charles Hayden Foundation.
On this morning, we heard from Andrew White, Director of the Center for NYC Affairs, which evaluated College Ready Communities (the initiative I mentioned earlier). Mr. White provided an overview of his and others’ research on the value of a college degree and shared key findings and lessons learned from the work of the nonprofits in the initiative, with particular attention paid to the non-cognitive area we all agree is hard to measure. He also presented research that shows that the best reflection of non-cognitive skill development is a student’s grades.
The other panelists — Elizabeth Kahn from the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, Lynn Sorensen of The TEAK Fellowship and Jane Martinez Dowling of KIPP Through College — shared ways in which their organizations are working to help students and schools overcome the challenges of measurement to effectively prepare students for college success. They were chosen by the program organizers to represent services for low-income students available across student achievement levels, school- and community-based settings, and varying degrees of scale. All employ a primary-contact-person model in their work — whether it’s college advisors, peer leaders or class deans.
Ms. Kahn offered insight on the ways in which a traditional community development corporation like Cypress Hills can inform academic rigor by providing their school partners the necessary research and data on their graduates’ persistence. Ms. Sorensen stressed the need for early and ongoing assessment of students’ academic and socio-emotional status. Ms. Martinez Dowling revealed that KIPP Through College is working to develop an algorithm to capture each student’s academic and non-cognitive rating. Among other things, they all discussed the false separation of academic achievement and non-cognitive development in determining college success, and called for recognition that these elements are integrated.
One of our colleagues asked how the work of these nonprofits is impacted by the Common Core rollout. We were reminded that the Common Core is a framework for aligning content and skill, and is not a curriculum. Schools will make choices about the way in which Common Core standards are implemented, and nonprofits will continue to respond to those choices as they work with students in and out of school.
Both of these sessions were very well attended — a testament to the scope and scale of the issue, and the attention being paid to it by the public, private and nonprofit sectors. A third session in this series is being planned on the role and responsibility of higher education in supporting students to see them through college graduation. Stay tuned for an announcement of this upcoming session. I hope you will join us!
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