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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Does It Mean to Be College Ready?: Helping All Students Get There

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
These are two vital questions that drive our work at Envision Schools, a nonprofit organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area that manages charter schools. It has started and supports four new high schools serving a diverse population of students, and plans to add twenty-four more schools in the next five years.

Too often, "college ready" means a student has passed a selection of college-preparatory courses that might or might not be rigorous; in California, these classes are approved by the University of California. However, only about 35 percent of all high school students in California take the courses that make them eligible to apply for the University of California and California State University systems.

At Envision Schools, though, students graduate having taken coursework to be eligible for admission to these systems. There is only one track: college. However, we do not think that being eligible and being prepared for college success are one and the same thing.

We believe that for students to be truly college ready, they need to demonstrate that they can apply the knowledge they have learned in their academic courses through performances that exhibit the foundational skills of the academic discipline -- for example, expository writing, literary, historical and scientific analysis, and research papers.

Furthermore, we believe that students need to have mastered twenty-first-century leadership skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression, effective written and oral communication, and project management to be well prepared for their first year of college and for their careers.

In order for students to meet our goals of college readiness, we need to design a balanced assessment system that drives instruction, informs learning for both students and teachers, and serves as a form of accountability. Our assessment system, consequently, drives teacher practice, student learning, our school structures, and our learning-support interventions.

Over the coming weeks, we will highlight the key aspects of our system and discuss the triumphs we have experienced and challenges we have faced. In the meantime, if you would like to see what some of what this work looks like in action, you can explore our project library, the Envision Schools Project Exchange. Please let us know what you think.

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Brenda Sageng's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been teaching at a small mid-western state university as a graduate student and as an adjunct for the past 3 years, and college readiness is an area that really needs serious consideration. Many of the students have no idea how to write formally, and complete sentences are rare occurances in their vernacular, text-message constructed papers. If they can construct a somewhat readable paragraph or two, it is usually a recitation of readily available factoids, or a very broad generality with lots of "always" and "never" ascribed to what people think in their estimation, with little critical consideration of the reading or activity assigned. Beyond the writing difficulties, personal responsibility for completing and turning in work at a specified time is a constant battle. The occasional difficulty due to unforeseen emergencies is understandable, but constant whining about how much work is expected and wanting extra time to do it is epidemic!
These immature approaches to learning (and life in general) should be addressed in high school, not university, particularly in an upper division class. A tremendous amount of teaching and learning time is taken up with "babysitting" issues which should not be part of a college class environment. What happened in the last 30 years since I earned my undergraduate degree? Why are the expectations so drastically minimized? How can a society progress if its institutions of higher learning accept "dumbing down?"

Cynthia Alvarado's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have taught students from pre-school through graduate school for over 30 years. I am afraid we are misidentifying the problem. It isn't a matter of developing people who are able to to progress from one level of the education machine to the next. We need a populace who can read, write, think, create and invent. While I heartily agree with the comment above, I don't think our current system, especially with the addition of high-stakes testing, really works at all in a knowledge-based economy. We need to revamp the secondary system to encourage students to address real problems creatively by researching and synthesizing information across disciplines in collaborative teams, both within and across school and national boundaries. Success in the 21st century demands excellent communication skills and the ability to synthesize and create knowledge. Our brains are all we really have to market these days. We need to stop "teaching subjects" and develop the creators and innovators of the future.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree, helping students become ready for the "real world" is important but in our society students don't seem to join the real world until their mid to late twenties. College, for most students, is just another four years of high school. Parental dependence is so high and higher level institutions are so plentiful that students are going to college anyway whether they are ready or not. Most people change careers four or five times throughout their lives today. What motivation do they have to be prepared for anything once they are done with high school? There are many things that need to be addressed in children's lives before they are career-focused by 18.

Anita Avila's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There is so much more to teaching these days than the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. With the way our society is changing, including the students, our education system needs to do the same. I am part of the Generation Y there are more and more men AND women going to college and diving into their careers. We have lived through the wave of technology and demographic change and have high expectation of ourselves and others. It is widely agreed that teachers today have much more responsibility than teachers 25 years ago, and Generation Y teachers are willing to live up to those expectation. In today's world, one needs to know much more than basic academic skills. I agree 100% with the statements in the posting. Students need to use the knowledge that they have learned and apply it through written and oral communication. It is one thing to be eligible for college, meaning you took all the required classes and passed all the required test; but it is more important to be prepared. A students can know anything and everything there is to know about World War II, but can he write a proper persuasive essay one the topic or present a factual speech? These are things that students today need, to be prepared for college and the real world. With the new generation coming into the "real world" society is going to become much more competitive, and we need to prepare our students to win.

Ken Jensen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Brenda Sageng said, "A tremendous amount of teaching and learning time is taken up with "babysitting" issues which should not be part of a college class environment. What happened in the last 30 years since I earned my undergraduate degree? Why are the expectations so drastically minimized? How can a society progress if its institutions of higher learning accept 'dumbing down?' "

I hear this quite often. I hear it from middle school and high school math teachers lamenting over the lack of basic calculating skills that should have been learned in elementary school. I hear it from science and social studies teachers distraught over students lack of knowledge of the world around them. I hear it from literacy teachers as they try to teach higher order think skills to students who cannot write a sentence. I hear it from teachers across the schools as they complain about students inability to focus on a task and finish.

What I rarly hear is how to address and work through the issues. I would suggest that we as educators first take a critical look at our own experiences in public school. As a 12, 13 or even 18 year old kids we were not able to objectivly look around our classroom and see what we can now see as teachers. As adolescents we were too focused on our selves and our work to see clearly what others in the room were doing and thinking- we enjoyed school which is why we became educators. What we cannot percieve well is how our peers 10, 20, or 30 years ago understood their multiplication facts, current or historical events, or how to write a correct and/or cohesive sentence. We feel like we are dumbing down the curriculum, but educators have been dealing with these issues for centuries and in reality the education of humans has drastically increased. Secondly, we need to quit looking to what should have already happened in our student's previous educational experiences and begin to look at what we can do with them today. The students who walk into my room each day deserve a teacher who can assess what they know and don't know, and create a learning experience so that every one leaves having learned something both new and critical.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that college-bound students need to be more prepared, but every student is not meant to go to college. While they do need the communication and basic skills, they lack the skills needed to have a career without going to college. I teach in a high school where we are gradually incorporating our former tech prep students into classes with college prep students. They are being held to the same standards, and teaching a class with such a wide range of abilities and goals is very difficult. We cannot expect all students to have the same learning abilities. Students often see no purpose in the higher level classes, and as a result, drop out of school. I think we need to offer more courses that are relevant to the real world.

Amanda Sparkman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that students should be able to apply higher-order skills to every part of their education. However, it is not necessary for every student to apply those skills in college-bound classes. There are so many workers in this world who are happy, bright, and successful without a college degree. Shouldn't an appropriate education be available to those folks? They have just as much right to be well prepared for their futures as any prospective college student.

I have taught a college-bound Spanish class for ten years, and there have been so many students who enrolled just because they knew that a foreign language skill would be an asset for their future career; they had no desire to attend a university.

I believe that all students should not be college ready; they should all be ready to think, solve problems, and apply what they know to the challenges that they will face in the future.

Beth Benson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can remember what I knew in high school and what I was capable of doing. It wasn't that long ago. I was not the smartest kid in school and it was not easy for me to get the grades I got - I had to earn them by reading and really studying. School was not my favorite place to be and I actually did something else after college instead of teaching - this is a second career for me. The difference between my classmates and I and the students in my classes today is that today's students have become lazy and apathetic. They are lazy because they are allowed to be. Much more was asked of my classmates and me than is being asked of today's students. All they are asked to do is take multiple-choice tests - in preparation for the state tests. This may not be true in all districts, but it is in mine. I don't know what they are being prepared for because in the real world, they won't always only have to choose between A, B, C, and D. Every problem they face will not come with 3 "wrong" solutions and one "right" one laid out all nicely for them to choose from. I have high school students who cannot answer a question if the answer is not right there in the text for them, word for word - if they have to actually make the effort to connect ideas before answering, they just won't do it. I have been trying to work with them as much as I can on short answer/essay type questions because they really seem to be at a loss as to how to come up with an answer to a question when the answer isn't there for them to pick out of 4 choices, and then to defend that answer. We are told to focus on the multiple-choice tests so that the kids will be more prepared to take the state exams. I understand the reasoning behind the state tests. However, passing the state test has become the number one priority - not making sure the students are really prepared to do anything once they're finished taking those tests. And with all the focus on the state exams, we hardly have time to prepare them for anything else. Our state tests are 3 weeks before the end of the school year. I spend those last 3 weeks trying to teach them all of the things I wish I could have taught them all year. How is that fair to these kids in the long run?

Catherine McCormack's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a college senior now, but let me tell you what went on at my high school. The other kids did whatever they wanted to do and they got away with it over and over and over again because everyone was afraid to do anything about it. They're taught that there is such a thing as actions without consequences. Then they go out into the world or on to college with that expectation. I'll admit, I goofed off in high school, too, but not to the point that it was damaging to my grades. I wanted to get into a good school. The vast majority of students at my high school, though, really didn't care about their grades, expected everything to be handed to them, and constantly complained about the assignments. Heaven help them if they had to read a whole paragraph before answering a question. Then the teachers would let them turn in work that was due almost 2 full months earlier at the last minute before report cards went out. That was violently unfair to those of us who showed a little responsibility and turned in our assignments when we were supposed to. I remember one kid who was failing a math class and his mother called the principal a week before the end of the quarter and the next thing you know, the teacher gave him a few simple worksheets to do and he miraculously passed the class. I bet he didn't even do those worksheets himself. So, that is why you have to babysit college students and why they are so immature and irresponsible. They aren't taught the one vocabulary word they really need: accountability.

"Professor" Paul O. Briones's picture
"Professor" Paul O. Briones
Host and Co-Creator of Virtual Science University

I would like to comment on the post Catherine made with the same Title "College Ready". I have been a High School Biology Teacher in Texas for over 30 years and have taught Anatomy & Physiology at the Junior College Level. I am dumbfounded by how many school districts recently have lowered the standards in Texas and other states. I agree with Catherine! Too many students have been given an easy ride and they expect the same when they get to college. The system has failed many students!!! This is why I have gotten out of public education and created my own Biology Lecture Series Website called Virtual Science University www.virtualscienceuniversity.com In the two years of existence, VSU has had two and half million visits from students all over the world. This college ready program will allow students to enter an Allied Health Career Program or Pre-Med Program and is about to go International with three other countries showing interest. I have an outline proposal I will submit here, which will allow any Metropolitan Area in the United States to implement this program.

Plan for Improving Student Literacy in Biology---The Integration of the Arts into Biology
(Objective: The student will become College Ready and be able to ace the STAAR or any State End of Course Exam in Biology.)

I. Problem: We have too many students who are not college ready and who are incapable of entering an Allied Health or Medical Career Program at a legitimate college or university.

II. Solution: I believe I have the solution for this problem since I created a 25 Unit Biology Lecture Series, Virtual Science University www.virtualscienceuniversity.com on the Inter-Net that covers a full year of High School Biology or General Biology on the College Level. This program is cultural sensitive since many of the actual science songs which are embedded in each unit have a Hip Hop, Latino, Rock, R & B, Country, or Blues Genre. Many songs have a combination of the styles of music I just mentioned. I also have a plan to implement this program at 15 learning centers in a Metropolitan Area such as San Antonio, Texas.

III. I have the overhead expense for implementing this program into any metropolitan area. I also have a list of equipment needed plus the number of personnel that would be necessary to implement this program. Not included are the building and maintenance costs. This program will serve 1,440 students annually and the cost is one tenth of what it would actually cost at the public school level.

IV. Each student completing this program will be expected to ace an End of Course Exam whether it is Texas or state based Aptitude Test. Student's previous test scores will be benchmarked and compared to the actual score they obtain on the Aptitude Test coming out of Texas or any other state. This program has increased TAKS Science Exit scores in school districts in the state of Texas where this program was used. Texas School Districts that used this program had an increase of as much as 20 percentage points gain on their Exit Science TAKS Scores.

V. This program is about to enter other countries such as Australia, China, and India and I would like for the United States to take advantage of this program.
I believe this program will help many students in the United States with the right entrepreneurs funding this program and metropolitan areas hiring teachers that are cultural sensitive. I believe we must wake up at the public school level and prepare our students to become college ready. It is up to us the Science Education Professionals in this country to set the standard!

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