Diplomas Count 2009: The Challenge of College Readiness for All Students

Our group of experts discussed initiatives at the national, state, and local levels that aim to prepare all students for postsecondary education.

Chat: Diplomas Count 2009: The Challenge of College Readiness for All Students

Thursday, June 18, 2 p.m. Eastern time

Our group of experts discussed initiatives at the national, state, and local levels that aim to prepare all students for postsecondary education.

Related Story:

  • “Diplomas Count 2009,” (June 9, 2009)
  • Guests:
    David T. Conley, director of the Center for Educational Policy Research at the University of Oregon
    Nancy Hoffman, vice president of Youth Transitions and director of the early-college high school initiative for Jobs for the Future in Boston
    Craig E. Spilman, executive director of the College Bound Foundation in Baltimore

    Dakarai I. Aarons, staff writer at Education Week, moderated this chat.

    Live Chat: Diplomas Count 2009: The Challenge of College Readiness for All Students(06/18/2009)


    1:31 Web Person: Casey: Today’s chat, Diplomas Count 2009: The Challenge of College Readiness for All Students, is open for questions, so please start submitting them now. The chat will begin at 2 p.m. Thank you for joining us.

    2:00 Dakarai I. Aarons: Hi, I’m Dakarai I. Aarons, Education Week staff writer. Thanks for joining us for todays chat on college readiness, the focus of our Diplomas Count 2009 report. We’d like to thank the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation for their generous support in fundign the report.

    2:01 Dakarai I. Aarons: We’re ready to get started and now I’d like to ask our distinguished guests to introduce themselves.


    David Conley:

    I am a professor at the University of Oregon and the director of the Center for Educational Policy Research and the Educational Policy Improvement Center. I have been working on issues of college readiness for the past 15 years.

    2:02 Nancy Hoffman: HI, I’m Nancy Hoffman, Vice PResident for youth transitions, at jobs for the future, a national non profit in Boston MA. We guide, support and do the policy and advocacy work for the national early college high school initiative. Dave Conley is one of our heros.

    2:03 David Conley: Thank you, Nancy. Feeling’s mutual.

    2:04 Dakarai I. Aarons: Thank you both, our first question is from Shelley Reed. David, why don’t you take a stab at her question?

    2:04 [Comment From Shelley Reed]
    Hi, I’m wondering, given that college readiness has not been universally defined, what you think about high school exit exams and differentiated diplomas, tools that inhibit a student’s ability to pursue post-secondary education, given in the context of an absence of remedial services - how appropriate are these in the face of lack of substantiating science and the lack of support services for the student so affected?

    2:05 David Conley: The key is having any policy tool, such as a diploma or exam, line up with college readiness criteria, which they don’t currently.

    2:05 Dakarai I. Aarons: Jon Bridges has a question about how we measure college readiness. Nancy, why don’t you take the lead on this one and David, feel free to follow up.

    2:05 [Comment From Jon Bridges]
    What are some readily accessible measurable indicators of college readiness beyond regular attendance, course taking and completion, and scores on tests of college readiness?


    David Conley:

    Do you want me to give a quick response?

    2:07 Nancy Hoffman: Well, we don’t have any readily available, humane and intelligent tests of college readiness that stand up nationally. But there are operational ways to measure: for example, in the ECHS (early college initiative) we say that a student who has successfully completed 15 or 20 non remedial college credits is college ready. AP course passing is another measure. Dave is working on more comprehensive and embedded assessments.


    David Conley:

    I have proposed a four-part model of college readiness that includes:
    - Key cognitve strategies
    - Key content knowledge
    - Academic behaviors (self-management)
    - Contextual skills and awareness (college knowledge)
    (See Redefining College Readiness for a more detailed exposition of the model)


    David Conley:

    Right now, we limit ourselves to just content knowledge via course titles, which is not sufficient.

    2:08 Dakarai I. Aarons: April has a question about using the ACT as a measure.

    2:08 [Comment From April]
    The ACT has been touted as a college readiness exam. Is this the best measure to ascertain whether students are actually ready for college course work?

    2:09 David Conley: Its a measure, and should be considered as such. It can be useful, but it’s only one dimension, as I note above.

    2:09 Nancy Hoffman: I agree with Dave-- tests don’t do anything to identify the motivating factors, the behaviors, and the habits of mind that make for college success.

    2:09 David Conley: Tests like ACT and SAT were never designed to be diagnostic and prescriptive in nature, so it’s hard to use the results to craft a program of college preparation.

    2:10 Dakarai I. Aarons: Tom asks how do we define “college” when talking about college readiness. Is it just 4-year colleges we are talking about, or is our definition more broad?

    2:10 [Comment From Tom Roman]
    How have you defined “college” and can we lump in all “post-secondary” training? As seen in some recent Chicago research, odds of college success/graduation are dim for low-performing students. Ironically, Devry, known for technical and practical programming had the best success graduating students with lower HS GPAs. What can we learn from this? And/or should we begin to promote other post-secondary training rather than traditional “college” for all?

    2:11 Nancy Hoffman: totally agree that 4-year college for all is not the goal

    2:11 David Conley: I try to talk about college and career readiness, by which i mean postsecondary programs that prepare students to pursue a pathway with advancement possibilities.

    2:12 David Conley: But “workforce preparation” is probably too vague to suit me.

    2:12 David Conley: There aren’t many jobs one can get with a high school diploma that lead to career pathways.

    2:12 Nancy Hoffman: but we don’t have a well respected and dependable route to careers other than the 4 year option-- Devry and other proprietary schools offer some real advantages-- fewer choices, better schedules, employer links, and a promise of a credential at the end.

    2:13 David Conley: I think there’s a real future in all sorts of “certificates” that take less than four years and maybe more than two.

    2:13 Nancy Hoffman: Obama is making a big push to support community college; but these are stretched institutions in many cases and while much in need of support, can’t respond to work force needs and produce career pathways as easily as one might think.

    2:14 David Conley: My big worry is high schools that try to sort students into those bound for more education and those who aren’t.

    2:14 Dakarai I. Aarons: Zee has a question about what materias we might need to address college readiness. Nancy, can you answer this one?

    2:14 [Comment From Zee]
    Is there any need or funding for secondary student materials that address aspects of college readiness beyond academic discipline standards? [Examples may include study skills, cross-disciplinary skills (e.g., research, writing), the college application process, and work/life skills (budgeting, ethical behavior, determining a career path).]

    2:15 Nancy Hoffman: I;m not exactly sure what you mean, but of course there’s much more needed than simply filling kids’ heads with content for tests. One very promising strategy for college ereadiness is having students actually take a real college course on a college campus with support from high school.

    2:15 David Conley: We have found a lot of materials of this type out there, and we are attempting to put them into a databank where they can be accessed more easily. But, there are a lot of resources in all of these areas; they’re just not readily available.

    2:16 Dakarai I. Aarons: Dr. Craig Spilman of the CollegeBound foundation is having technical difficulties on his end and may not be joining us in our Web chat this afternoon. We will keep you all posted if that changes.

    2:16 Nancy Hoffman: In addition, College Summit, AVID, and other wrap around support programs help with exactly the list of things you include. BUT my view is that these things shouldn’t be extras; they should be part of the usual high school program.

    2:16 Dakarai I. Aarons: Alexis wants to know how early such preparations should begin.

    2:16 [Comment From Alexis D. Matthews]
    How early should college readiness begin. Waiting for high school seems a little too late for some students who may be deficient, particularly in areas of reading and math

    2:17 David Conley: We are working on 6-12 models currently.

    2:17 David Conley: The key cognitive strategies have to be developed over a longer period of time than just the junior and senior years.

    2:18 Nancy Hoffman: Well, in some early colleges that start in 6th grade (CUNY system), students are taking mini courses on the Queens College Campus at grade 7; they are visitng colleges, and doing such things as learning greek and latin routes to buld vocab for college. These are easy things that help students early on develop what we call a college identity or academic identity. These are things that college educated families do at home

    2:18 David Conley: Part of the problem is that teachers get more and more divorced from college readiness as one moves down the grades, or so it seems.

    2:18 Dakarai I. Aarons: David, Zee has a question about the standards being developed in Texas, where you have done extensive work.

    2:18 [Comment From Zee]
    Dr. Conley: Are the Knowledge and Skills for University Success standards being used to develop college readiness standards in states other than Texas?

    2:19 David Conley: The KSUS were one set of resources that were used in the development of the Texas College and Career Standards, but only one source among perhaps a dozen.

    2:19 David Conley: They are being used in South Carolina at the moment as well. sorry, didnt get your meaning there.

    2:20 David Conley: We know of a number of other states where they have been influental in policy discussions but not formally adopted.

    2:21 Dakarai I. Aarons: Lots of readers have questions about what role this new movement toward common standards might play in the college readiness push. Why don’t you both share your perspectives.

    2:21 [Comment From Katie]
    What are your thoughts on the movement towards adopting common core standards?

    2:22 Nancy Hoffman: I’m in favor of national standards-- though they’ll probably still be “voluntary” in the USA and not endorsed or mandated by the government...

    2:22 David Conley: It will be tremendously helpful to have some basic agreement on the key content knowledge in particular that we want all students to master. We can’t really afford to have tremendous regional differences in student knowledge and skill.

    2:23 David Conley: It’s hard to understand why students should be learning vastly different mathematics in one state versus another, for example.

    2:23 David Conley: The trick will be to ensure that sufficient attention is paid to key cognitive strategy development and not just content knowledge.

    2:24 Nancy Hoffman: All the better performing countriies have national standards-- even with strong traditions of local control and decentralization. They just need to be parsimonious and we need aligned assessments to go with them. There has to be substantial room left for state and district input

    2:24 Dakarai I. Aarons: Lan has an excellent question about how educators should prepare for the multiple pathways that might constitute “college.”

    2:24 [Comment From Lan]
    If a 4-year college is not for all, then what downfalls/factors do educators need to think about when thinking about a college readiness program, one that states that all students should graduate ready for college even if they’re not going to college?

    2:25 David Conley: You don’t want that to mean that all students take the exact-same set of courses and that those courses have a strictly academic focus. There is room for lots of applied learning, if it involves the right content and thinking skills.

    2:26 David Conley: High-level technical courses that incorporate academic concepts and require writing, analysis, thinking, etc., are all appropriate. What’s most important is to have a defined core and a set of outcome standards toward which all students are striving.

    2:26 Nancy Hoffman: WEll, we have a language problem to start with. Going to college can mean 2 or 4 year “college.” College and career ready-- the going jargon-- actually mean very much the same thing. A strong foundation in basic skills is critical and perhaps even more so for the student going into a certificate program with technical demands. I will put in a plug for us to abandon 4 years of math on a parthway to calculus... I’d vote for prep for postsecondary statistics... but that’s not about career versus college but about how everyone would benefit...

    2:27 Dakarai I. Aarons:
    Chris has a question about the role colleges can play in the college readiness push.

    2:27 [Comment From Chris]
    Question for David Conley: What efforts would you like to see happen at the college admissions/enrollment level around the country to help high school leaders better align their new college readiness initiatives? Could you give us a sense of if and / or at what colleges this might happen in the near future?

    2:28 David Conley: Colleges need to be open to a wider array of performance measures when considering admission and making placement decisions.

    2:29 Dakarai I. Aarons: Nancy, Carolyn is concerned about students who are placed on the technical track in high schools. Perhaps you can answer her question.

    2:29 David Conley: They also need to be working in closer partnership with high schools to communicate what is really required for success, not just the courses and grades needed.

    2:29 [Comment From Carolyn]
    What opportunities are available for students tracked into the technical or school to work diploma vs. college track diploma? Are we steering these students into a dead zone with limited opportunity for post secondary opportunities or dead end (little opportunity for advancement) and low wages?


    David Conley:

    We shouldn’t have a “technical track,” per se. We need high quality applied learning opportunitites that still have students writing, analyzing, reasoning, and engaging in the study of important questions.

    2:30 David Conley: It’s not enough to “train” students: we must equip them for a broad range of possible futures.

    2:31 Nancy Hoffman: Some regional vocational high schools or centers do excellent career prep and send many studnets on to schools like MIT and other science programs. But you’re right, many do not have well trained teachers and cannot afford up to date equipment. We do not advocate for technical training in high school witht the exception of exploration of careers. We do like programs that include dual enrollmetn CTE courses taken at community colleges while in high school.

    2:32 Dakarai I. Aarons: Theresa wants to know about strategies for GED students.

    2:32 [Comment From Teresa Lax]
    ARe there any strategies that you know for people who do the GED route? These people tend to have an even lower success rate than traditional HS grads.

    2:32 Dakarai I. Aarons: Have either of you seen succesful strategies for those students?

    2:32 David Conley: I am not aware of any GED connections, but I do know that efforts are being made to upgrade the GED.

    2:33 Nancy Hoffman: We are working on a pathway design here called GED to college. This would help students with the GED to move into a pathway that supports career advancement. Very few students with GEDs graduate from college; those who do are often alienated middle class kids who get their support outside of school

    2:34 Nancy Hoffman: If you would like more information, go to the JFF website www.jff.org and find the contact info for Adria Steinberg, the VP who leads this work. You can email her.

    2:34 Dakarai I. Aarons: Emily wants to know how schools create a college-going culture, especially for poor and minority youth. Nancy, how have you seen that work with the stuents in the schools JFF works with?

    2:34 [Comment From Emily Remington]
    I believe that our conversation should focus more on “doing” than “thinking.” What do high performing high schools that are serving large numbers of minority and poor students do to create college-going cultures?

    2:36 Dakarai I. Aarons: Emily, we also have a story about efforts in Baltimore schools to create a college-going culture in Diplomas Count. You can read the story at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/06/11/34college.h28.html

    2:36 Nancy Hoffman: Dave has seen our clinical site in Worcester, MA. The easiest way to see the design principles and pedagogy we embrace would be to go to the website
    www.upcsinstitute.org ,

    2:37 Nancy Hoffman: In addition, I don’t think we’re lacking for knowledge about what helps low income students succeed and not only get good grades but enjoy learning. We’re lacking will, resources, support for teachers and leaders, and the ability to scale what works. Replication of good models is an under studied and highly complex problem

    2:38 Dakarai I. Aarons: Michael says not everyone needs to be college ready. What do you all think?

    2:38 [Comment From Michael Bay-Borelli]
    Let’s get real - not everyone needs to be college ready, for example, in 2004 there were over 15 million people working in retail jobs across the country. Do we really need to be talking about CR for these employees?


    David Conley:

    It’s about being prepared for the future. What’s the world going to be like in 20 years? Do we really want to say that some students don’t need to be able to keep learning beyond high school?

    2:40 Nancy Hoffman: They may not want to work in retail the rest of their lives... and yes, the US is the land of choices and the eternal make over...but it’s very hard to get to college level skills and knowledge if you decide later in life you want to change careers.

    2:40 Dakarai I. Aarons: DMA wonders where technology fits into the college readiness equation.

    2:40 [Comment From DMA]
    For college readiness, how can we implement more advanced technology strategies, including platforms that are popular with students like social media tools? How do we help our teachers and administrators feel more safe with modern tools?

    2:40 David Conley: I think we get too hung up on our definition of post-high school learning, and we start to think only in terms of universities or the like when, in fact, we are talking about students being able to continue to learn in formal settings throughout their lives. A high school diploma today is no guarantee of that. That’s why we need to think about postsecondary as goal or target.

    2:41 David Conley: Great question. I dont have a simple answer, but there clearly is lots of room to begin to make learning more socially distributed. Colleges are the ones really moving forward on this front, largely in fits and starts and not just with distance learning.

    2:42 Dakarai I. Aarons: DMA clarifies:

    2:42 [Comment From DMA]
    I was thinking more in terms of using tech to create and advance college-going culture, not as a career following high school. By tech, I mean online and mobile tools in the classroom, in counseling offices, etc.

    2:42 David Conley: How about if we start simple with something like podcasts? That would be a pretty cool technology that lots of teachers and students could pick on relatively quickly and that has lots of applications.

    2:43 Nancy Hoffman: Now I think you’re on to something important that most schools and school systems haven’t figured out. 25 students staring straight ahead atr one teacher for very varied learning needs and disciplines doesn’t make sense. We need to use these media that kids love as well as others from the business and for profit world where education is modularized and delivered differently. Social networking should be used for team and collaborative learning. We’re neanderthals in most schools for this kind of stuff.

    2:43 David Conley: College knowledge is all about access to information. Getting ready for college is incredibly information-intensive. That’s where we need access to all sorts of online information sources, of which there are many.

    2:44 David Conley: We’re working on an assessment system that ties into a lot of these methods, but more on that some other time.

    2:44 Nancy Hoffman: there are a number of web based counseling, advice giving and support networks on line. See for example www.connectedu.com (might have the url mangled.) these are very effective; can do assessments of students’ college choices, fill out FAFSA, produce the template for a college ap and guide filling out... there are anumber of these on line.

    2:45 Dakarai I. Aarons: A guest wants to know what you all think of the work done by Achieve’s American Diplomas Project, which is working with governors in more than 30 states.

    2:45 [Comment From Guest]
    What do you think of the work Achieve/American Diploma Project has done on establishing benchmarks?

    2:45 [Comment From Alex Payne]
    I have two questions regarding how this push for college readiness fits in with the larger economic picture. First, how do you reconcile an emphasis on college readiness with the continually rising cost of higher education and with the budgetary cuts being induced by this deep recession? Isn’t having a student ready for college only meaningful in so far as there is the ability to adequately finance his or her college education? And secondly, assuming the problem of financing higher education is solved for economically disadvantaged students, if the number of college going students is broadened by this push to increase college readiness where will the jobs come from in

    2:46 David Conley: They were among the first, right after Standards for Success, and they have tremendous political influence. They really get things going at the governor level in states, which is very important.

    2:46 David Conley: The financial aid issue is, quite frankly, outside of my portfolio of expertise. It’s certainly important; I don’t have an answer for it.

    2:47 Dakarai I. Aarons: We also have a question above from Alex on how the college readiness push fits into our economic picture, with rising college costs amid a recession.

    2:48 David Conley: Thanks for the correction on the connectedu.net url.

    2:48 Nancy Hoffman: Re college costs, yes this is an issue, but community colleges remain very affordable with pell grants. We are working on a multi state initiative called Making Opportunity Affordable. You can google this title and see what this is about. Put crassly, it’s about more degrees per dollar. Our insitutions of higher ed waste students’ and tax payers’ dollars because so many students enroll and dont graduate. This is not just the fault of institutions but I do beleive they ahve a responsibility to do everything they can to help students they accept graduate.

    2:48 David Conley: I guess one answer is more early college programs, dual enrollment, AP, and other programs that allow students to get college credit while in high school.

    2:49 Nancy Hoffman: the website is www.makingopportunityaffordable.org

    2:49 David Conley: Another idea is lowering remediation rates and decreasing time-to-degree by having students fully ready when they enter college in the first place.

    2:49 Nancy Hoffman: YEs, David is citing approaches that save time and money by accelerating students. There’s a lot to explore here.

    2:49 Dakarai I. Aarons: Javier is concerned about the impact of exit exams on the college-going futures of some students. What might be done about this?

    2:49 [Comment From Javier]
    Thousands of students are being left out of the CR because they can’t pass their state’s high school exit exam. How can CR be redesigned to motivate students who are the furthest away from getting to college?

    2:51 Nancy Hoffman: My answers will sound like ciches: start the prep earlier, make learning more hands on and engaging and change the assessments so that they measure multiple readiness factors, not just content knowledge assessed by filling in bubbles and guessing.

    2:51 David Conley: We need to emphasize the development of cognitive capabilities- thinking, writing, reasoning, inferring, hypothesizing, and not just content knowledge. This helps engage students more and, more importantly, helps them see themselves as potential college candidates.

    2:52 Dakarai I. Aarons: Micheal is concerned that ratcheting up pressuire could cause us to lose more students.

    2:52 [Comment From Michael Bay-Borelli]
    It is all well and good that we want to prepare kids “for the future” and give them more future options, BUT in our zeal to raise standards, to make all kids CR, are we not going to push large numbers of kids out of high school (i.e. increase the drop out rate)?

    2:52 David Conley: Students have to have a reason to want to achieve at higher levels. They have to believe they are actually capable of doing post-secondary work. That means they have to be challenged enough to see what they can do (and what more they need to do).

    2:52 Nancy Hoffman: Low income young people especially need to experience having agency in the world, acting in public so as to see the positive impact of their work. It’s hard to have to study theory for years before you are allowed to apply it. Imagine studying a book about how to play the guitar for six years before you get to pluck a string!


    David Conley:

    Dropout rates are actually quite sensitive to unemployment rates: when unemployment is low, dropouts go up, when it’s high, it goes down. I’m not convinced we push kids out of school by expecting more of them.

    2:53 [Comment From Tom Roman]
    Thought I’d share this link about what post-secondary institutions can do to increase grad rates of alternative students in particular, but applies to all. The Alternative HS Initiative crafted some ideas for HSs and institutions to work together: http://www.ahsi.org/2009/04/ahsi-post-secondary-institution-indicators-of-success/

    2:53 David Conley: Having said that, we need to scaffold and support their learning when we challenge them. Just expecting them to do more and then allowing them to fail is certainly not the answer.

    2:54 Nancy Hoffman: Our experience with early college is that the higher the expectations, the harder students work. For data on the 42,000 students now in early colleges see a recent on line op ed piece that I did with my colleague Michael Webb reporting on our data. It should make you feel like success IS possible with a wide range of students.

    2:54 David Conley: Our centers have also done a lot to create models for high school-college partnerships and collaborations.

    2:55 David Conley: By the way, just let me emphasize the importance of local secondary-postsecondary partnerships. They really can make a difference.

    2:55 Dakarai I. Aarons: Gloria wants to know what role the business community should play in this effort.

    2:55 [Comment From Gloria]
    Businesses and employers appear to be absent from the “college readiness” conversation. From your perspective, how may these stakeholders supplement our conversation in cogntive strategy development, common core standards, and multiple pathways initiatives?

    2:55 Nancy Hoffman: This has been fun-- great questions and a great way for me to catch up with my friends Dave and Dakarai-- I have to go to a meeting, of course!


    David Conley:

    There’s no one easy answer to this question, but business needs to emphasize more consistently the importance of addtional education beyond high school.

    2:57 David Conley: I also think high quality internships can really make a difference, and business can provide more of them.

    2:57 Dakarai I. Aarons: Many thanks to Nancy for joining us today and sharing her insights with us. David, we have one last question for you on the secondary-post secondary partnerships you emphasized earlier.

    2:57 [Comment From Sonia]
    In addition to early college high school, Dr. Conley, can you describe some of the key components of the college-high school partnerships you mentioned earlier?

    2:58 David Conley: I think they are places to work on pretty much everything we have discussed here. You don’t have to wait for the state to get it right before working locally to get better connections, better measures, better programs, and increased success for all students.

    2:59 David Conley: Please visit our website www.epiconline.org for more examples of everything we’ve been discussing.

    2:59 Dakarai I. Aarons: This concludes today’s chat on Diplomas Count 2009 and college readiness I’d like to thank both David and Nancy for taking time to share their perspectives with us.

    2:59 Dakarai I. Aarons: If you haven’t already, you can check out Diplomas Count at www.edweek.org/go/dc09. This chat and all others are archived at http://www.edweek.org/chat/, so feel free to send invite colleagues to check out that page for more.

    3:00 Dakarai I. Aarons: Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful questions and we hope you enjoy the rest of your afternoon.