Education leaders across the country are faced with a growing phenomenon: too many students are not college-ready when they leave high school.
A new paper, reporting on research under way by the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at the Stanford University School of Education, details the implementation of a College Readiness Indicator System framework, or CRIS, designed to significantly increase the number of students who graduate high school ready to succeed in college.
The paper appears in the fall edition of the journal Voices in Urban Education, which is a special issue on CRIS. “Many school districts use Early Warning Systems based on academic measures such as course credits and GPA to identify students at risk of dropping out or not being college-eligible,” said the paper’s co-author, Gardner Center researcher Oded Gurantz. “With CRIS, we are adding measurements of the skills, competencies, and attitudes needed to stay the course and attain a postsecondary degree.” The other co-author, Graciela Borsato, is also a researcher at the Gardner Center.
The new findings come midway in a national, three-year study taking place in five urban school districts, and they identify key factors that influence the speed and depth at which districts can build their CRIS.
The CRIS initiative was launched in August 2010 with a $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gardner Center is leading the initiative in partnership with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. More recently, the Stanford and Brown researchers have begun to work closely on the project with the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which has also been funded by the Gates Foundation to develop and test CRIS-related tools based on their work in Chicago Public Schools.
The need for CRIS arose out of a growing awareness that a high school diploma does not ensure college readiness. CRIS aims to address that problem. It enables school administrators to concentrate on more than just students’ academic preparedness when assessing college readiness, by also including indicators of “college knowledge,” the knowledge that enables students to access and navigate college, and “academic tenacity,” the underlying beliefs and attitudes that drive student achievement.
CRIS is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to college readiness but, rather, an approach based on a menu of indicators from which districts can select those best attuned to their local context. All indicators in the CRIS menu are variables that have a consistent and predictable relationship with college readiness; can be influenced through actions under the purview of K-12 teachers and administrators; and can be measured at the individual (student), setting (classroom), and system (district) levels.
For example, the paper cited how one district chose a CRIS indicator that involved tracking students’ completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which offers a quick read of students’ college knowledge at particular schools. Another district began using an indicator of “academic press” — the extent to which teachers press students for effort, perseverance and rigor — to help them gauge tenacity.
In addition to the menu of indicators, CRIS includes a Cycle of Inquiry tool to help districts think through the conditions that need to be in place for effective use of their indicators. Districts accustomed to collecting data that assess student performance at the end of the school year find that the CRIS Cycle of Inquiry encourages them to engage earlier with students before they go off track. The first two years of this study produced valuable lessons related to successful implementation including the need for acceptance and “buy-in” from a wide range of school stakeholders, and the staff and technical resource capacity to undertake the program from development to evaluation.
“Districts will develop a stronger CRIS if the indicators align with their strategic plans and internal capacity,” the co-authors Gurantz and Borsato wrote, emphasizing that CRIS is about more than gathering information. “Ultimately, collecting more data will not lead to better outcomes for youth unless a system is in place that helps turn those data into meaningful action,” they added.
In the third year of the study, the researchers are looking to help each of the participating districts to fine-tune a CRIS that boosts students’ postsecondary success.
Nancy Mancini is the communications manager at the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at the Stanford University School of Education.