College and Career Readiness

Oct. 21, 2014

 

In this venue and in the pages of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I have argued and tried to show that success in college involves much more than academic skill. One person I like to quote to substantiate my argument is Dr. David Conley of the University of Oregon. Dr. Conley is a leading researcher of college readiness and has authored many papers and books on the subject. I ran across an October 2013 interview with him by Project Information Literacy of the University of Washington. The interviewer asks what it means to be college ready in today’s world.

 

Heartening to me, Dr. Conley said that eligibility for college and readiness for college are not the same. He explained that eligibility means that the student has taken challenging high school courses and done well, and has done well on standardized and admissions testing. Readiness, however, “implies that the student’s preparation is well aligned with the full set of knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in postsecondary education. The emphasis here is on being able to succeed, not just on being admitted.”

 

As Toward College Success stresses, those skills necessary to succeed in postsecondary education also are skills needed to succeed in life. I simply call them life skills, and a young person needs to have the basics in life skills well honed when he or she leaves home after high school—for whatever is pursued. Without those skills, being admitted into college does not equal being successful in college.

 

Dr. Conley has construed a college readiness model that includes “12 components and 41 specific aspects that the college and career ready student needs to master to be fully ready.” They include cognitive strategies, content knowledge, learning skills and techniques, and transition knowledge and skills. Included within these are skills such as self-awareness, motivation, help-seeking, time management, and many others that are discussed in Toward College Success.

 

In the interview, Dr. Conley explains that testing, course selection, and grades are the components that easily convert into policy. The problem is that those components do not show the full capabilities or inadequacies of the student. Determining whether or not a student is truly “college and career ready” is more complex and much less easy to assess than a test—once again, this is a primary message in Toward College Success.

 

Dr. Conley also is asked about his insistence that teaching research skills is important for college success. He states that his research shows that most high school students are not assigned many research papers, and those that they are assigned are usually required to be several pages long. High school students are not learning how to investigate, analyze, hypothesize, and organize a shorter, accurate, concise well-written paper—the type of paper that is more often assigned in college. Then, unfortunately, once in college many of these students do not seek help with their writing because they do not has self-advocacy skills.

 

And on and on. I recommend reading the interview at http://projectinfolit.org/smart-talks/item/80-david-conley-deconstructing-college-readiness and looking for more of Dr. Conley’s work on the subject of college readiness. I also recommend reading Toward College Success!

 

Sept. 4, 2014

There is a website on which reporters post “want ads” for information on subjects they are researching. Today I saw one of those information requests for college preparation advice for high school freshmen. The ad specifically requested “advice on how to build good habits.” I translate that to advice on how to be successful in college and life beyond high school.

How convenient then that the updated, second edition of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? has recently been released. It is, of course, full of just that kind of information. It is directed toward parents, however, because they are the ones that through guidance and the handing over of responsibilities give their teenagers those skills necessary for a successful college experience.

Although these skills have been discussed often in this forum, it is never too repetitive to make or update a list.

1. Your freshman should keep her own calendar. Include not only academic deadlines and dates, but have her note sport and extracurricular meeting dates, doctor appointments, and anything else she has going. You also should keep track of those dates because in the beginning she probably will miss a few. You can remind her, but eventually let her take over—and let her suffer the consequences of missing a deadline or an appointment.

2. In high school, many teenagers get involved in numerous activities: multiple sports, music, clubs, community service, a job. This is a good time to guide your teenager through priority management. Teenagers can become overwhelmed juggling too many activities on top of school work. Make it clear that academics come first. If school work starts to slide, then your teenager may need guidance in deciding which activities to let go. This can be hard for parents because the teenager may decide to give up something that mom or dad really want him to pursue—such as piano lessons or a particular sport that is near and dear to mom or dad’s heart. Remember that this is the teenager’s life and he needs to make the decisions.

3. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to put your teenager on a budget and teach her financial responsibility. Make a list of the items you will pay for and those for which the teenager is responsible. Do this whether the teenager’s money is an allowance, from work she does for you, or from an outside part-time job—and stick to the plan. This is a good time to show your teenager your household expenses and how you budget.

4. Provide opportunities for your teenager to improve his communication skills. During family gatherings or when friends are around, ask an adult to start conversations with your teen, asking about the teen’s activities, interests, or views. Teens need to learn to communicate face-to-face instead of relying on texting or social media outlets. Also encourage your teen to ask questions as that is a good way to start networking and building contacts.

That’s a good list to start. It will grow as your teenager ages and as you give out graduated responsibility. Keep reminding yourself that the goal is to help your teenager be ready, willing, and able for success in college and life beyond high school.

April 30, 2014

I admit, I get exasperated every time I read another article that basically states the same ideas readers can find in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Neither my book nor I am a big enough name to be noticed by the “well-knowns,” and so I report when their blogs, articles, books, affirm Toward College Success.

Nancy Flanagan, a regular blogger for Education Today, recently wrote a piece titled: “College-Ready?” While she does discuss what makes a student “college ready,” she first challenges the idea that going to college, picking a college, and picking a career mostly should be based on rate of return. I completely agree. Not long ago, I wrote about the value of learning for learning sake, the value of stretching one’s cognitive abilities, the value of studying and discussing challenging and diverse subjects. Flanagan states that the primary trajectory toward college is: “1) Being college ready. 2) Being successful in college (completing a degree program, admission to the next level). 3) Using those degrees to leverage more money and prestige.”

If that is what a student wants for her life, then good for her. Hopefully she has the drive, the maturity, and all the skills to make it happen. But, of course, there are other paths to a fulfilling and successful life—vocations, certifications, apprenticeships, military—but these often carry the stigma that these paths are not as lucrative or fulfilling—two terms that should be defined by personal interests, goals, and priorities, not by the world at large.

Flanagan writes: “What do we expect to get out of a college degree? It’s very rare to hear policymakers or thought leaders talk about depth of disciplinary knowledge, exposure to diverse viewpoints and the art of argument, guidance in learning to create or solve problems–or lead. Instead, we get lifetime salary estimates as payoff for slogging our way to a credential. Nobody talks about personal satisfaction or the benefits of an educated populace.”

 

As for college readiness, Flanagan says that being college ready is having the “self awareness” to wisely choose a field of study and having a clear purpose for going. To be successful in college, Flanagan says, takes maturity, something she doubts many freshly graduated high school students possess. So what does she suggest? One is to take a gap year if you can find one that you can afford.

 

But mostly she suggests getting out and living. “Get a Joe job. Move out and live independently, or with roommates. Pay your own utility bills. Sponge off your parents for home-cooked leftovers and access to the washing machine. Travel to places you’ve never been. Think about how you’d like to live, as an adult. Dream. Read. Make mistakes.”

 

Great advice—found in Toward College Success as well. After such an exploration, maybe that student will decide it’s time for college.

 

To read Flanagan’s article: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teacher_in_a_strange_land/2014/04/college_ready.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS3

 

Nov. 8, 2013

In yet another article, an educator stresses that academic skills, by themselves, do not guarantee college and career readiness—the same message put forth in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?

David Cook, Director of Innovation and Partner Engagement at the Kentucky Department of Education, questioned in an Education Week blog whether we are graduating students that truly are college and career ready. His conclusion, after talking to business representatives, is that education is not providing a crucial part of what is needed. Cook wrote: “Being able to read, write, and demonstrate math knowledge are not the only readiness indicators. In fact, they are the bare minimum.” A statement that reads as if it came straight out of Toward College Success.

Cook goes on to say that employers told him that they “don’t terminate employees because they aren’t able to grasp the content knowledge needed to do the job. Instead, they terminate employees because employees don’t know what to do when they face a challenge or problem, they can’t think creatively about new approaches to issues on the job, they can’t adapt to new work, and most importantly they don’t understand the importance of showing up to work and being persistent when faced with challenges.”

Wow. These are the points that I make in presentations and that I make in this venue, only I relate it more to college success. What these businesspersons told Cook is even more disturbing than the number of kids who get to college without these skills—these same young adults are graduating college still lacking time and priority management, conflict management, and, it seems, basic maturity.  I think it would be interesting to review the history of some of these unsatisfactory young employees to learn what courses they took and the grades they received. It sounds as if something is amiss.

But to reiterate my point: It does take more than academic skill to be successful in college and in life. And while Cook challenges high schools to tackle the issue, I challenge parents to step up. Schools can certainly reinforce “soft skills,” but I believe most need to be taught at home long before the end of high school. Parents are the ones who have the opportunity to give graduated responsibility, who can offer choices that demand careful consideration because of the consequence or outcome attached. Mistakes, even failures, are great learning opportunities; parents can guide their child through learning from a mistake, being persistent, and moving on.

To read Cook’s article: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/engagement_and_reform/2013/11/we_arent_really_getting_them_college_and_career_ready.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW

March 26, 2013

Last week I wrote about various alternative high school programs that allowed students opportunities to gain college credit, work experience, or internships all while working toward high school graduation. It seems that educators post daily articles and blogs about the need to move toward a “redesign” of high schools to increase students’ college and career readiness. And data seems to be backing them up. For example, an October 2012 report from Jobs for the Future did a study in Texas that found high school students who had taken at least one college course while enrolled in high school “were nearly 50 percent more likely to earn a college degree from a Texas college within six years than students who had not participated in dual enrollment.”

 Another study, “Opportunity by Design: New High School Model for Student Success” by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, contends that in order to be prepared to meet the Common Core Standards, many high schools will need to “redesign.” The Carnegie study points to schools that have increased student engagement and graduation rates through smaller schools, real-world experiences with community businesses, more personal attention to individual student academic progress, and a comprehensive academic curriculum as well as dual programs.

 I found, however, part of the statement written by Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation, to be particularly telling: “….while it is important to graduate from high school, high school is not an end into itself, but rather preparation for college as well as life-long learning. It is one part of the path that leads students toward their ultimate potential in any field of endeavor as well as in finding personal satisfaction in their lives.”

 It is, in fact, during those high school years that a student should be learning the skills she needs to be successful in college and career. Redesigning high schools to more fully engage students and offering dual programs are part of moving them toward success, but there is another important component here. I believe parents need to see their role in this whole discussion; parents need to be as involved as the school in moving their teenager toward success. At home, parents need to be teaching time, conflict, and financial management. They need to give their teenagers graduated responsibilities. They need to model an interest in learning, keep communication open, and learn to listen to their teenager. Without these non-academic but important life skills, redesigned high schools will still struggle to prepare students for college and career success. It take parents, schools, and communities working together to move teenagers toward college and career success.

 To read the Jobs for the Future report: http://www.jff.org/publications/education/taking-college-courses-high-school-strat/1475

To read the Carnegie report: http://carnegie.org/fileadmin/Media/Programs/Opportunity_by_design/Opportunity_By_Design_FINAL.pdf

Feb. 12, 2013

Texas’ Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school system that borders Mexico was known as a “dropout factory” until a new superintendent implemented changes that made school more appealing to its mostly minority, mostly low-income students. In a recent Education Week article, writer Lesli Maxwell, explained how Superintendent Daniel King stepped into the failing school system in 2007 when the graduation rate was only 62 percent and proceeded to turn it around. He did so by offering students “community college courses at a new school called PSJA College Career Technology Academy that was separate from the district’s comprehensive high schools.” The courses would put students on track for college or career success.

Maxwell goes on to explain that the courses were taught by teachers from nearby South Texas College and offered students the opportunity to earn credits toward an associate degree or certification in various fields. The career academy also helped students who needed to make up high school credits and pass state high school exit exams. Students came forward to take advantage of an option that gave them a high school degree plus college credit and the makings for a career without the cost of going to college. While the regular high school path did not appeal, this option was practical and financially feasible. It worked. By June 2012, the school district’s graduation rate had climbed to 88 percent.

I greatly applaud this concept, which was derived from King’s experience with establishing “one of the first early-college high schools in the country.” According to the Early College High School Initiative website, “early-college high school is a bold approach, based on the principle that academic rigor, combined with the opportunity to save time and money, is a powerful motivator for students to work hard and meet serious intellectual challenges. Early-college high schools blend high school and college in a rigorous yet supportive program, compressing the time it takes to complete a high school diploma and the first two years of college.”

Such an option is just what many students need. There are too many teenagers that do not see the relevance of regular high school classes; hence the reason for high drop-out rates. If they have an option to attend a program that allows them to gain college credit or certification in a field they can enter as soon as they graduate, then suddenly it makes sense to go to school. And while the Early-College High School Initiative focuses on “low-income young people, first-generation college goers, English language learners, and students of color,” I believe it is an opportunity that would stimulate many students of any background.

According to the Early College High School Initiative website there are 75,000 students in 28 states attending one of the 240-plus early-college high schools. In addition, there are 21,000 more students attending 33 similar schools that were developed by partners outside the Initiative. If we want to help our teenagers find the path to success in college or careers, they need relevant options. The early-college high school model appears to be one of the most promising.

 To read more about the Early College High School Initiative, go to: www.earlycolleges.org where you can see the location of current schools. To read Maxwell’s article about the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school system, go to http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/02/06/20ltlf-king.h32.html.

Aug. 28, 2012

Last week I touted a study by IQS Research that substantially supported the message in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? This week I’ve been reviewing the ACT’s 2012 report on “The Condition of College and Career Readiness.” The basic finding is that student’s scores have not changed much since 2008; math and science scores have increased slightly while those in English and reading have decreased slightly. The report states that “one in four ACT-tested high school graduates met all four (English, reading, math, science) ACT college readiness benchmarks in 2012.”

 You can read the full report or you can read individual state reports to get the full story. But one thing that caught my attention was mention of the “academic behaviors” evaluations. The report stated: “ACT research illustrates how the combination of academic achievement and behavior yields more information than either measure alone when differentiating students for high school persistence.” ACT uses its ENGAGE Graduation Index scores to look at those “behaviors.” It made me curious to see how ACT rates these behavior influences on college success.

 ACT’s ENGAGE assesses the academic behaviors of motivation, social engagement, and self regulation. ACT defines these three areas as follows:

  • “Motivation includes personal characteristics that help students succeed academically by focusing and maintaining energies on goal-directed activities.
  • “Social engagement includes interpersonal factors that influence students’ successful integration into their environment.
  • “Self regulation includes the thinking processes and emotional responses of students that govern how well they monitor, regulate, and control their behavior related to school and learning.”

 ACT ENGAGE plots out how these three areas of academic behavior manifests itself in middle school, high school, college, and the workplace. Not surprisingly, it shows that students who learn self-control, organization, and cooperation in middle school go on to be high school and college students who study hard and effectively, are involved in their school and community, and who can handle the pressures of school and life.

 Such assessments also support the message in Toward College Success. Educators, administrators, and even the ACT acknowledge that being college ready means more than academic readiness. ACT states that “standardized achievement tests help identify students who are academically at risk or off-track for success. However, other factors influence academic success in school. For example, student motivation—the interest and drive to get schoolwork done—is one of the issues teachers struggle with most. If students are to be successful in meeting a core set of academic standards, they first need to be sufficiently motivated and persistent to do the work.”

 So once again, I point parents to Toward College Success. Within its pages you will be alerted to all those “academic behaviors” and more that are so important in our teenagers becoming successful high school and college students. Guiding and training your teenager in the behaviors and skills that lead to college success should start today.

 To read the ENGAGE issue report, go to: http://www.act.org/engage/pdf/ENGAGE_Issue_Brief.pdf