Posts published in October, 2014

50 State Comparison Of College Readiness Policies

Submitted by: The Education Commission of the States

October, 2014

Education leaders across the nation are working hard to improve their students’ success and transition from high school into postsecondary. With so many variables to consider, this is no small task.

To assist with the process, the Education Commission of the States has launched a Blueprint for College Readiness, which includes a 50-state online database to provide guidance and support to those leaders. This Blueprint features a first-of-its-kind analysis of the top 10 critical K-12 and higher education policies promoting college readiness and success.

“The depth and breadth of valuable information in the Blueprint for College Readiness is extraordinary,” ECS President Jeremy Anderson said. “In addition to the analysis of the top 10 education policies, the Blueprint provides individual state profiles for all 50 states. In a glance you can now see where states are strong and where opportunities for improvement exist.”

The Blueprint is designed to serve as a framework to help K-12 and higher education leaders conceptualize the various education reforms taking place in their states. It unites two driving forces in state and federal policymaking:

  • Improving the college readiness of students preparing to graduate from high school.
  • Decreasing the need for remedial education and increasing the number of students who earn a degree or credential.


As for the nuts-and-bolts of the project, the analysis includes four high school policies, four postsecondary policies and two bridge policies that impact both high school and higher education. The state profiles, including all 50 states and the District of Columbia, allow education leaders to easily understand where strengths and opportunities exist.

The Blueprint examines the following policy areas:

  • High School: College readiness standards, college readiness assessments, graduation requirements and accountability.
  • Higher Education: Statewide admissions standards, statewide remedial and placement policies, transfer and accountability.
  • Bridge: Statewide college and career readiness definition, and a data pipeline and process for reporting.

Additionally, this project includes a 50-state analysis exploring the extent to which states are pursuing these policies, along with accompanying resources, technical assistance and an online database — all designed to respond to the unique needs of the states.

“We all know there is not one magic policy that is going to suddenly improve student outcomes,” ECS Chair and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said. “It takes a complete system of integrated policies working together to achieve the results our students deserve. This report highlights the importance of K-12 and postsecondary collaboration.”

The Education Commission of the States ( was created by states, for states, in 1965. We track policy, translate research, provide unbiased advice and create opportunities for state policymakers to learn from one another. For more information, contact Communication Director Amy Skinner at (303) 299.3609 or

Entire Approach Of College Remediation Needs Overhaul

By Rob Baird,

Senior Leader for Program and Policy,

Community Training and Assistance Center, Boston

Every year in the U.S., large numbers of college freshmen get a rude shock: they discover that they have to begin college by taking non-credit, remedial courses because they’re not ready for college work. This academic holding pattern creates a drag on motivation and, without a doubt, on wallets. Worse, it doesn’t work. Many students fail remediation courses. Some then give up and never continue their college studies. According to a Carnegie Foundation report, 60% of students entering community colleges in the United States are required to complete developmental courses and a staggering 70% of these students never complete the required mathematics courses, blocking their way to higher education credentials and with them, a wide array of technical and related careers. Traditionally, only 5% of students earn college math credit within a year of continuous enrollment.

These failure rates for college remediation are so severe that tweaking won’t help. The entire approach needs a major overhaul. Remediation assumptions, curricula and assessments are all in need of rethinking.

College remediation was developed some 40 years ago to provide struggling students with more time to reach entry level college standards. It was designed as a sequence of increasingly challenging math and English courses. The remedial course of study was offered as a temporary off-ramp on the road to a certificate or degree, still seen as part of the pathway to college success. By now, however, it is clear that the off-ramp should be marked “exit only.” Only the rare remediation program offers a route to college. Originally meant to help underserved students succeed in college, remediation has morphed into an impediment to full college access.

Students’ first college experience should be in a credit bearing, “gateway” course, such as freshman and sophomore courses students must complete prior to declaring a major subject concentration. This should hold true whether their academic preparation has been weak or strong. The college and its faculty should expect to find any number of students who will need significant amounts of support in order to be successful in a gateway course. Yet, if there is any question about a student’s readiness for the college level work, colleges typically play it safe by placing that student into a remedial course.

This approach tends to backfire. Students who thought they were college ready become discouraged. Many never find their way back to the gateway course or curricula. They are stuck in remediation. What can be done? Institutions should change the questions they ask during the placement process. Instead of asking why a student should be placed in a gateway course, we should argue for why they shouldn’t be there.

Alternatives are possible. The idea is to accelerate rather than remediate. In other words, it’s more effective to place students immediately in credit bearing courses, simultaneously providing extra support that ensures they can keep up.

The following two approaches are successful in moving students from remediation back to a college track. They demonstrate how students who are assessed below college-ready standards can–with targeted mentoring–enter, persist and ultimately graduate from college.

Structured Support

College and High School Faculty Provide Team Support through Shadow Courses and Extended Time. In the Shadow Course approach students receive remedial instruction while also enrolled in a traditional single-semester gateway course. Remedial support is delivered through an aligned, remedial course or through non-course based options such as required participation in self-paced instruction in a computer lab or mandatory tutoring. The simplest strategy that works is extending instructional time after class, by 45 minutes. Another is to add additional hours to a course, raising it from three hours per week to five. These time extensions give students more opportunities to master course content and concepts with which they have struggled. The pass rate in these gateway courses for students who have received this kind of support is double the pass rate of students who did not receive any targeted mentoring.

One-Year Course Pathway. Students with more significant remedial needs benefit from more robust instruction and enhanced learning supports. This takes the form of a one-year, two-semester course sequence in which students stretch what is typically a one-semester course into a full year.

For example, the Carnegie Foundation’s pathways courses deliver remedial instruction in a just-in-time manner over the course of a year. Carnegie convenes networks of faculty members, researchers, designers, students, and content experts in the creation of two new pathways, one in statistics and the other in quantitative reasoning. It is Carnegie’s belief that, “students will have greater motivation to succeed and persist if their mathematics study is engaging, meaningful, relevant and useful.” In its first two years, over 50% students enrolled Carnegie’s Pathways achieved college math credit within a year.

Additional strategies include acceleration, co-teaching, mentoring, and variations on the shadow courses described above. Implementing any of these strategies is a risk and initially cost more. Yet the return on investment pays off when students stay in college, moving away from remedial classes and fully entering the college track.


Very Few 4 Year Graduates Default On Loans

From New America Ed Central

There are literally thousands of media stories about soaring student debt levels – but the students defaulting aren’t the ones we think. In fact, Clare McCann and Jason Delisle write, very few recent graduates with four-year degrees default on their student loans.

Hidden Causes Of College Tuition Increases

The Progress of Education Reform: A Hidden Cause of Rising Tuition
This issue of The Progress of Education Reform  examines tuition discounting, the practice of awarding targeted financial incentives to students, usually in the form of merit awards or needs-based grants. Specific attention is focused on the impact state-legislated tuition caps can have on the practice. (Sarah Pingel and Matt Gianneschi, ECS, August 2014)

Defense Of Current Procedure For Measuring College Graduation Rates

By Robert Shireman

  • From Huffington Post

The way college graduation rates are measured is not perfect. But the claim that colleges enrolling a lot of part-time students are treated unfairly because these students are “overlooked” or “left out,” as a recent article claimed, is pure bunk. The erroneous claim is not new. Officials at colleges with low graduation rates have for years defended their rates by falsely asserting, perhaps mistakenly believing, that their part-time students who eventually graduate are “counted as failures.”


With the federal government poised to reveal college comparisons that will likely include use of the graduation rate, it is time to set the record straight. Students who start college as part-timers are in neither the numerator nor the denominator of the graduation rate, so their existence on a campus has no effect on the calculation. They are not counted, period. The graduation rate is, quite logically, a measure only of those students who could, theoretically, finish in the prescribed amount of time because they started as full-time students.

To be sure, more robust data on student success would be useful, such as the systemdeveloped by the California community colleges, allowing for much more refined analysis based on the characteristics and interim progress of the students. Even better would be a federal data system that allowed for a variety of analyses across institutions and states. But the current graduation rate measure is neither unfair nor fundamentally flawed. And it would not make sense to include part-time students in the rate as currently designed: Doing so would lower rather than lift the graduation rate, both because part-timers take longer and because fewer of them ever make it to the finish line no matter how long you measure it.


Valid cautions about the rate

Policy makers focus on the graduation rate as an accountability tool because there is little else available, and they want to make sure that colleges and universities are doing everything they can to keep students engaged and learning. They are right that a college can improve its graduation rate by:

  • Helping students figure out what they want to study, and guiding them to courses that are challenging enough academically but are not overwhelming;
  • Reaching out to assist students who exhibit signs of struggle, before it’s too late; and,
  • Making sure students feel connected socially, so they feel that they’re a part of the campus, that they belong.

But policy makers need to be careful about placing too much value on a college’s graduation rate, because there are some less noble ways that the number can be increased. One is to lower standards. The easiest way for a college to have a high graduation rate — 100 percent — would be to hand the sheepskin to every student who walks in the door. Of course, no college goes quite as far as being an obvious degree mill. But it is worth remembering that colleges themselves decide whether someone deserves a degree; we must trust that the people running the colleges will not make decisions that defeat the very purpose of the degree.

A bachelor’s degree is like the carrot hanging in front of the horse, a lure invented by society to encourage people to explore, to discuss, to question, to perform, to fail, to enjoy, to invent, to connect, to disappoint, to achieve. We rely on colleges to maintain the value of the degree by ensuring that it is conferred only upon a student who has traveled far enough academically to deserve it. Already there are a lot of questions about the skills of college graduates. We would be well-advised not to make it even harder to trust that colleges are maintaining the integrity of the degree.

If we start paying colleges based on the number of degrees they hand out, it is not hard to imagine what will happen. Just look at how universities lower standards in response to the financial pressure to keep star football players from flunking out.

Another danger is that colleges will shun needy students in favor of more academically focused, wealthier students. Given that most colleges already salivate over well-prepared and well-heeled high school graduates it is hard to see how highlighting the graduation rate could make that hazard worse. But it is a useful reminder to policy makers that a college may seem great because of the students who enroll rather than because of the teaching and support that the institution offers.

For consumers, the fact that the rate may be high in part because of the students who enroll is no reason to dismiss the measure. Much the opposite. Peers can be as important a factor in student success as the inspiration that can come from excellent instructors and support staff. Because of the infectious nature of learning, it is not always evil for a college to make an effort to enroll a critical mass of well-prepared students, even plying them with scholarships.

At community colleges, it is important to combine the graduation rate with the separate transfer rate, since transferring is one of the primary purposes of a two-year college. Four-year colleges also have the option of reporting a transfer rate, as explained in this useful article (full text available to Chronicle of Higher Education subscribers).

While there is no single piece of information that adequately measures what a college does, the graduation rate is one of the more useful indicators available, despite its imperfections.


What Is The Real Cost Of College Transfer?

College students transfer from one college to another for a variety of reasons. With every one there is a transfer tax – a financial consequence – that is not only incurred by students but higher education institutions, states and the nation. It is the added cost resulting from students taking courses that don’t impact degree completion outcomes and lost course credits. We have to examine the impact of the transfer tax on all stakeholders to reveal the true implications that college transfer has on higher education

Click Here to read AcademyOne’s latest Insights piece about the transfer tax and the many ways in which it affects everybody.

Research Findings For Effective College Writing Remediation

The Challenge of Writing Remediation: Can Composition Research Inform Higher Education Policy?
by Stefani R. Relles & William G. Tierney
This article presents a review of research relevant to postsecondary writing remediation. The purpose of the review is to assess empirical support for policy aimed at improving the degree completion rates of students who arrive at tertiary settings underprepared to write.

Source:Teachers College Record


More AP Courses Slated For Major Overhaul

But will revamp in favor of teaching college critical thinking in high school fuel the Common Core controversy?

By Emmanuel Felton, Hechinger Institute

This story also appeared at:

U.S. News & World Report

Despite the recent fallout over new guidelines for Advanced Placement U.S. History, the College Board is making similar changes to most science and history AP courses in an effort to emphasize critical thinking.

The College Board is in the process of retooling many of its 36 courses to more align with what it sees as meeting the needs of today’s rigorous college instruction. The new courses – from Art History to Physics — will cover fewer topics and aim to address charges that the old courses prized rote memorization over imaginative thinking.


For the first time new AP course descriptions will specifically outline broad concepts that teachers must impart to students. In the past these guides were essentially just lists of suggested topics.

Old Art History

A table determined how much time should be spent on three topics: Thirty percent on European art from the time of ancient Greece through the Gothic Era, 50 percent on Western art from the Renaissance through the present and 20 percent on art outside of the European tradition.

New Art History

Now a 150-page outline asks students to grapple with three big ideas: “Artists manipulate materials and ideas to create an aesthetic object, act or event,” “art making is shaped by tradition and change,” and “interpretations of art are variable.”

Old Biology

Presented students with a list of eight topics – which included “Evolution,” “Energy Transfer,” and “Science as a Process.” It included a list of 12 recommended experiments.

New Biology

Four big ideas replace the list, starting with, “Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.” The new guide only suggests teachers do eight experiments.

New AP Biology guides went into effect two years ago and new frameworks for the program’s four physics courses started this fall. The new AP European History and AP Art History courses begin next year.

But critics are leery of a “shift” in the AP program that embraces Common Core Standards, a set of English and math standards adopted by more than 40 states. These standards were promoted by the Obama administration in response to the outcry over current state standardized tests that rely on memorizing facts. Some parents, school administrators and local elected officials worry that they will lose control over what is taught in their schools. Texas, home to the second highest number of AP exam takers in the country, has outright banned Common Core.

Related: Is the new AP U.S. History really anti-American?

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars – a non-profit that seeks to counter a perceived liberal bias in academia – said he has not seen any of the other courses but was all-to-familiar with the new AP U.S. History curriculum. If they are similar, Wood said “they reflect a shift at the College Board … [the old] list of topics were sufficient and left high school teachers the flexibility to imagine a real course around these materials.”

It now seems the board doesn’t trust teachers to “balance abstract and critical thinking with teaching empirical content,” said Wood, who taught in the Anthropology Department at Boston University. “This has a lot to do with the standardization push … there is this thought that unless everyone is doing it the same way it isn’t any good.”

The prize for students at the end of an AP class is the chance to take an exam that, if they score high enough, could get them college credits or allow them to skip introductory courses at some colleges. Last year, before the Common Core controversy hit its current fever pitch, the College Board discussed the connection between Common Core and the AP revamp.

“We are really excited that the Common Core standards ask teachers to do a few things very well,” said Trevor Packer, College Board’s Senior Vice President in charge of AP and Instruction. “We have been making similar changes in AP through a parallel process – the redesign of AP science and history courses that do the same thing.”

Related: More teachers are souring on Common Core, finds one survey

The College Board, a non-profit company that also administers the SAT, has been revising the AP program since 2007. But the calls to revamp the program amplified in 2013 when professors at Dartmouth College conducted an experiment testing whether the courses were really college level.

Dartmouth’s Psychology Department gave more than 100 students who received a perfect five out of five score on the AP Psychology exam, a condensed version of the school’s final for its introductory psychology course – 90 percent failed.

The college didn’t stand by the experiment as a rigorous scientific study of whether AP courses were truly comparable to college courses, but the school no longer gives students credit for high scores on any of the AP exams.

AP science and history courses have seen the biggest changes, but Parker says that Common Core also directly affects how AP math and English courses are taught.

“Common Core will prove to be excellent preparation for AP English,” Parker said last year. But AP math will see bigger changes as schools implement the Common Core, he predicted.

Helpful SAT Prep Resources For Students

By Jane Hurst

One of the biggest challenges in your life isn’t the SAT, but preparing for it. This can be so nerve wracking, and it isn’t something that will only take a few days. It will take many months to prepare for the most important test of your life, and you need to find ways to keep from becoming overwhelmed. The first thing you need to do is to study, obviously. You should also start taking practice tests. That way, you can find out what areas you are weak in, and work on them more so you can get the best possible score on your SAT.

As you continue studying, continue taking practice tests. The more tests you take, the more you will be prepared for the real thing when the time comes. Unfortunately, it can cost a lot of money to have private tutors, or take an SAT preparation course. Luckily, there are online resources you can use that have free and nearly-free practice tests online. Since there is little to no cost, you have nothing to lose, and no excuse not to be as prepared as you can possibly be. Here are the top websites that offer SAT practice tests:

  • ·         SAT Tutoring– When you use this website, you are going to receive one-on-one SAT tutoring that is completely customized to your exact study needs. Most SAT prep classes follow the same old curriculum, which is produced for average students, and does not align with the needs of individual students with particular strengths and weaknesses. This program customizes tutoring to your style of learning, and focuses on the areas you need the most help with. You won’t get this kind of personalized attention from many other SAT prep websites. Through one-on-one tutoring, you will master all of the skills and gain the confidence you need to ace the SAT.
  • PWN the SAT – This is a great site to use to help you improve your math SAT scores. New York math tutor Marc McClenathan created this site, and also wrote the accompanying book, “PWN the SAT: Math Guide”, which has received great reviews on Amazon. The creator wants students to be able to get the help they need, without paying a fortune for it.
  • The Critical Reader – You will find tons of useful information on this website from New York test-prep tutor Erica Meltzer. The information will help you improve your scores on the reading and writing parts of the SAT. Find free study guides, and for even more great advice, read her book, “The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar”.
  • College Board – This is the only website where you can take a practice test that is an official, full-length SAT exam, so you will know exactly what to expect when it comes time for the real thing. You will also get your scores immediately. You can sign up to get daily SAT questions, which you can find the answers to in the book, “College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd Edition”, available on Amazon for $12.08.
  • Perfect Score Project – This site was created by the mother of two teenagers who took the SAT every time they could (seven times) in a single year. She offers all kinds of great tips for preparing for the SAT on the website, so you will have all of the tools you need to score high.
  • Erik the Red – Erik Jacobsen, math/physics tutor and PhD from Summit, NJ specializes in helping students to prepare for the SAT and ACT math sections. You will find loads of great free materials that you can download, such as formulas, strategies, and of course, test quizzes to help you prepare for the SAT and pass with flying colors.

Jane Hurst has been working in education for over 5 years as a teacher. She loves sharing her knowledge with students, is fascinated about edtech and loves reading, a lot.

Postsecondary Vocational Certificates Pay Off For Students


Is it Worth It? Postsecondary Education and Labor Market Outcomes for the Disadvantaged

Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. for the Fordham Foundation

This CALDER paper examines a range of postsecondary education outcomes for disadvantaged students—like enrolling and completing an associate or bachelor’s degree or gaining a vocational certificate—and respective salary data for these students during high school and for five years after their last educational institution. Analysts use Florida administrative data for two cohorts of students—over 210,000 in total—who graduated between 2000 and 2002, which enabled the researchers to observe between ten and twelve years of postsecondary and labor-market outcomes. They merge secondary school, postsecondary school, and earnings data, including courses taken in high schools, grades in those courses, overall GPA, and various college data, such as credits earned, major, and degree attainment. Controlling for demographics and prior achievement in high school, they unearth two findings: first, gaps in secondary school achievement likely account for a large portion of the differences in postsecondary attainment and labor-market outcomes between disadvantaged and other students; and second, earnings for disadvantaged kids are hampered by low completion rates in postsecondary programs, poor college performance, and their selection of low-earning fields. Yet they find that vocational certificates and associate degrees in health, transportation, construction, manufacturing, and security lead to relatively high pay for disadvantaged students and low-scoring high-schoolers. Specifically, those with vocational certificates earn 30 percent more than high school grads, and those with associate degrees pocket roughly 35–40 percent more. Analysts recommend, among other things, that public institutions do a better job partnering with industry associations and promoting high-potential career pathways—and that more high-quality apprenticeships be made available for the disadvantaged.
Benjamin Backes, Harry J. Holzer, and Erin Dunlop Velez, “Is It Worth It? Postsecondary Education and Labor Market Outcomes for the Disadvantaged,” CALDER (September 2014).