What does it mean to be college ready? How do you design schools, and the systems to support them, to reach the goal of preparing all students to graduate from college?
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.