College administrators, freshman instructors, and other faculty members from the University of Oregon gathered last week for the first in a series of national meetings to examine the connection between the skills needed to succeed in college and K-12 academic standards and tests.
The two-day meeting at the university was part of Standards for Success, a three-year, $2.45 million project financed by the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts and participating members of the Association of American Universities, a group of 61 leading research institutions. Each of the 13 universities taking part in the project has committed $60,000 toward the effort.
David T. Conley, the project’s director and an associate professor of education at the University of Oregon, said the goal is to create a “more seamless connection” between the skills required to graduate and those necessary to flourish in a university setting. Almost every state has adopted academic standards for K-12 students, he noted, and many now have graduation exams, “but in every single state, they were generated without reference to university admissions or success.”
The project grew out of an AAU task force, formed in 1998, to examine the role of universities in precollegiate education.
“It’s important for research universities to make a statement to potential students, parents, and guidance counselors concerning what skills and knowledge students need in order to be successful here,” said Susan G. Forman, the vice president for undergraduate education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., one of the participating institutions.
“Frequently, we admit people who seem to have good credentials and then wind up needing academic support once they get to research universities,” she said, “and we’re trying to make an effort to make sure students are well-prepared at the secondary school level.”
‘A National Conversation’
Over the coming year, Standards for Success plans to hold six, two-day meetings at AAU campuses around the country. During the meetings, university faculty members from various disciplines, admissions personnel, and instructors of entry-level courses will review freshman-level syllabuses, reading lists, and samples of student work to help pinpoint the core knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college.
They also will review copies of the academic standards in several states. At the meeting last week, participants examined the state standards from California, Oregon, and Washington state. The goal is to critique the standards and provide feedback to state departments of education in a form they can use.
“It’s possible that, through this project, there could be some better input from the higher education community into the process in the various states,” said Nils Hasselmo, the president of the Washington-based AAU, “and therehasn’t been satisfactory communication about the issues before.”
By the fall of 2002, the group hopes to distribute a CD-ROM to every high school in the United States. The disk would summarize the key knowledge and skills required for university success; provide examples of the tests, assignments, and readings that students would encounter in college, along with samples of student work; and analyze how state standards and assessments align with those expectations. High school teachers could use the material to help prepare lessons that address state standards and university expectations simultaneously.
The project also will create a national clearinghouse that will analyze state standards and assessments and provide admissions officers with ways they can use students’ scores on those exams to make decisions about college admissions, placement, and merit-based aid, if they choose.
The project comes at a particularly opportune moment. Eighteen states now require students to pass exit exams to earn a high school diploma, and six more plan to do so.
‘A Missing Piece’
But in many states, educators and parents are questioning if the skills and knowledge on those exams are appropriate for all students, and whether what is being tested provides preparation for college or workplace success.
“We can say there are lots of missing pieces in education reform, but this one really hasn’t gotten any attention at all, so I think it’s a very important initiative,” said Betsy Brand, a member of the project’s advisory board and a co-director of the Washington-based American Youth Policy Forum.
Contributing institutions are: the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, the University of Missouri, the University of Oregon, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Pennsylvania State University, Rice University in Houston, and Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus.
A version of this article appeared in the February 07, 2001 edition of Education Week as Universities Seek ‘Seamless’ Link With K-12