In a series of editorials last year, the RoundTable expressed concerns that the model being developed by School District 202 to define “college readiness” will set low expectations for ETHS students, and in turn for District 65 students.
We are concerned about this because the proposed definition is linked to academic skills that we think are lower than those needed to enroll in and succeed in four-year colleges such as Northern Illinois, Northeastern Illinois University, DePaul University, and University of Illinois at Chicago.
The definition of college readiness will be used to measure progress toward meeting ETHS’s primary academic goal “to increase each student’s academic and functional trajectory to realize college/career readiness …” It may be used to shape the curriculum and determine whether a student needs supports. It will set the Board’s expectations for administrators.
Setting high expectations is thus critical.
Last week we shared our concerns with Eric Witherspoon, Superintendent, Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent, and Pat Savage-Williams, President of the District 202 School Board; and we suggested several things we think would raise the bar.
We are encouraged by a number of Dr. Bavis’s responses. In its model, ETHS will no longer consider obtaining a “certificate” from a community college as graduating from college. They will, however, continue to consider obtaining an “associate’s degree” from a community college as graduating from college. In a number of other respects, Dr. Bavis said they are open to considering our suggestions, without a commitment to do so.
Dr. Bavis said, “I am confident that we will find that the predictive measures [developed through the model] will be more rigorous than current measures of college readiness.”
At this point, though, we do not know what the measures of college readiness will be. And we continue to be concerned that, as currently proposed, they may be aligned with skill levels lower than those needed to enroll in and succeed in competitive or very competitive colleges.
We suggest the following.
A. Basics of the Proposed Model
Under its model, ETHS first determined the college graduation rates of students who graduated from ETHS in 2008, 2009, and 2010. In making this analysis, ETHS divided colleges into three tiers using Barron’s college selectivity rankings. Barron’s uses six college selectivity rankings: 1) most competitive, 2) highly competitive, 3) very competitive, 4) competitive, 5) less competitive, and 6) non-competitive.
ETHS grouped the top three categories of colleges into Tier 1; it placed competitive colleges into Tier 2; and placed the bottom two categories into Tier 3.
Based on the analysis of graduation rates, ETHS administrators propose to deem that students who have continuously enrolled in five or more semesters “at any tier of college or university” to be college ready. If Districts 65 and 202 agree on that outcome, ETHS plans to identify multiple characteristics of ETHS graduates who have met that outcome, and those characteristics will constitute the benchmark for college readiness at ETHS.
The multiple characteristics might include earning a certain ACT or SAT score, taking particular courses at ETHS and having success in those courses, earning certain grades or a grade point average at ETHS, and taking AP courses at ETHS and having success in those courses. Different weights might be given to different measures, and a higher score on one measure may make up for a lower score on another.
B. Selecting the “Tier” or “Tiers” of College
As noted, the proposed model would deem that students who have continuously enrolled in five or more semesters “in any tier of college or university” to be college ready. This includes students who have continuously enrolled in five or more semesters in an open-enrollment two-year college. Data shows that these students have at best an 80% chance of obtaining an “associate’s” degree within six years of graduation from high school.
Under the proposed model, an ETHS student will thus be deemed college ready if he or she has the characteristics to persist to a fifth semester in an open-enrollment two-year college and have at best an 80% chance of obtaining an associate’s degree within six years of graduating from ETHS.
While attending a community college may be a viable path for some students, and while students may choose this path due to financial or other constraints, we think ETHS should be preparing its students to have the academic skills to gain admittance to and succeed in “very competitive” or, at the least, a “competitive” four-year college. Students should have the academic skills to pursue that path if they choose to do so.
According to memos prepared by ETHS, examples of “very competitive” colleges are DePaul University, University of Iowa, and University of Illinois at Chicago.
Examples of “competitive” colleges include Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, Northeastern Illinois University, and University of Kansas.
According to Barron’s, students who attend “very competitive” colleges typically rank in the top 35% to 50% in their high school, which means they rank between the 50th and 65th percentiles.
Students who attend “competitive” colleges typically rank in the top 65% or 50% in high school, which means they rank between the 35th and the 50th percentile.
We urge the Boards to define college readiness in terms of the characteristics of students who continuously enroll in five semesters at a “very competitive” college, or at the very least at a “competitive college.” We suggest three alternative approaches.
1. Separate Measures for Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3
First, we suggest that ETHS identify college readiness measures for each of the college tiers that it has defined as Tier 1 (which includes “very competitive” colleges), Tier 2 (which is comprised of “competitive” colleges), and Tier 3 (which is comprised of “less competitive” and “non- competitive” colleges), and set as a goal that all students meet the measures for Tier 3 colleges, and that on an annual basis higher percentages of students will meet the measures for the higher tiers.
We think this would be a much more robust, transparent, and useful approach than what ETHS is proposing for four reasons:
• It would not just set expectations that students have the skills to advance to a fifth semester at a community college and have at best an 80% chance of obtaining an associate’s degree, but that more and more students have the skills to gain admission to and advance to a fifth semester in Tier 2 and Tier 3 colleges;
• It would provide valuable information to students, parents, and counselors about where students stand and what they need to do to gain admission to and have a good chance of graduating from a Tier 2 or Tier 3 college;
• It would not give students the false impression that they are prepared to gain admission to a Tier 1 or Tier 2 school, when their only option may be to gain admission to a Tier 3 school; and
• Many accountability systems report how students are doing at multiple proficiency levels.
Dr. Bavis told the RoundTable, “We can certainly look at the data this way. As we analyze the data we may see a convergence of Tier 2 and Tier 3 predictors. Let’s see where the data takes us.”
We ask the Board to make a commitment to do this, and if the measures do not converge for all three tiers, to identify separate measures of college readiness for each of the three tiers.
2. Creating a Fourth Tier
The above approach could be tweaked by dividing Tier 1 colleges into two tiers, one that contains the “most competitive” and “highly competitive” colleges (Tier 1A), and a second tier that contains “very competitive” colleges (Tier 1B), and then setting separate college readiness measures for Tiers 1A and 1B, in addition to Tier 2 and Tier 3. This would provide more nuanced information to students, parents and counselors.
Dr. Bavis says that starting in ninth grade, parents and students have access to Naviance, a tool that allows them to determine from their SAT/ACT score and ETHS GPA where they stand in terms of being admitted to certain colleges. He adds, though, “We are certainly open to looking at this and seeing how differentiated these measures are by the tiers you present.”
While access to Naviance may provide more nuanced information, it does not constitute a Board goal. We encourage the Board to commit to looking at the college readiness measures for each tier of colleges. If the measures differ by tier, the Board should set separate college readiness measures for each tier, and set as a goal that all students will meet the measures for the lowest tier, and that on an annual basis higher percentages of students will meet the measures for the higher tiers of colleges.
3. If Only a Single Benchmark is Used
If there is resistance to setting separate college readiness measures for each tier of colleges, then we suggest that the Board define college readiness in terms of a single benchmark: the characteristics of students who continuously enroll in five semesters at “very competitive” colleges, or at the very least at “competitive” colleges.
This is not a question of defining the type of college we want our students to attend. Rather, it is about defining the level of academic skills students should have when they graduate from ETHS. All students should have high academic skills when they graduate from ETHS, whether or not they go to college.
C. Selecting “Average” Characteristics
Once the outcome is defined (e.g., continuously enroll for five semesters in a certain type of college) and a group of students is identified who meet that outcome, ETHS will identify the characteristics of that group of students. Under some approaches, this will lead to identifying characteristics at the low end of the achievement spectrum.
Students may generally advance from one semester to the next in college, and advance to a fifth semester, if they have a GPA of 2.0 or higher or are on probation. Under the proposed model, students will be deemed college ready if they have the characteristics of students who have a GPA of 2.0 or are on probation after four semesters. As such, the proposed model may be linked to C level work in college.
This too results in setting low expectations – 77% of the grades given in college are As and Bs, and the average college GPA in 2013 was 3.15, according to a recent study.
We have heard arguments that college graduation is what matters, and no one cares what a student’s GPA is after graduation. Class rank and a GPA do matter if a student wants to continue on to get an advanced degree, and they matter in obtaining a first job. And importantly, a GPA is an indicator of a student’s critical thinking skills, which are vital in today’s world, no matter what career path a student chooses.
We recognize that ETHS does not have access to its graduates’ college grades, so the proposed model cannot link directly to college grades. Perhaps, though, instead of identifying characteristics of students at the lower edges of the achievement spectrum in the group selected, ETHS could identify the “average” characteristics of students who persist to five semesters in the type of college selected.
Because the average college GPA in 2013 was 3.15, identifying the “average” characteristics of students who were continuously enrolled for five semesters may be close to identifying the characteristics needed to do B level work.
ETHS administrators are resisting this approach. Dr. Bavis said, “I don’t see this as a feasible approach once we identified that students with five contiguous semesters have an 80% chance of graduation. At a certain point we must look at the impact of college on students who are in college. We have no way of knowing what the value add for college is of how much a student grows academically in college.”
While there is no doubt that colleges impact student growth and achievement, we think the academic skills students have when they leave ETHS will significantly influence how they do in the first two years of college. We urge the Board to find a way to identify characteristics that predict whether students will “succeed” rather than just “get by” in college.
Defining expectations and setting goals for our students and administrators is perhaps one of the most important things a School Board does. High expectations convey the message that we believe all of our children can succeed. They can drive the work of the School District. We urge the School Boards and administrators to set higher expectations.