As most of you know, in 2013, HB5 mandated the creation of college preparatory courses to be offered in high schools for students who do not pass end-of-course exams (EOCs) in mathematics and English/language arts their junior year. These courses require a partnership with an institution of higher education (IHE) and are designed to improve students’ readiness skills prior to entering college and/or the workforce. As the fall 2014 semester – and the first semester of HB5 college prep courses – is almost over, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the implementation of these college prep courses.
To that end, we reached out to discipline leaders at the 20 Education Service Centers across Texas and asked them to respond briefly to two questions: what has worked well? and what challenges have you seen? Their responses fall into three primary categories: partnerships, culture, and resources. See a snapshot of their responses below along with some of our thoughts about the roles CRAs can play in these areas.
- “strong collaborative partnerships between ESC, School Districts, and Institutions of Higher Education”
- “conversations among higher education faculty and high school faculty to align coursework, instructional approaches, and rigorous expectations such that students are guided to specific pathways”
- “greater streamlining of offerings at the high school level”
- “distance from an Institution of Higher Education”
- “need greater involvement on the part of the private sector”
These comments reflect that college and career readiness is not just a concern for colleges or high schools; it is a P-16 pipeline issue. This means that we must all work together to strengthen the alignment between high school course expectations and those of colleges and careers. The CRAfT team believes that this misalignment of expectations is the main issue of readiness today. College Readiness Assignments (CRAs) were developed by teams of high school and college faculty, and they were tested in high schools, community colleges, and four-year universities. As such, CRAs represent a strong pipeline partnership and can help teachers in their efforts to align courses. In addition, many districts do not have access to IHEs or companies in their vicinity, so online connections are critical.
- “culture of college attainment expectations by district and community leadership”
- “promote post-secondary studies throughout students’ academic career”
- “focusing school system leadership’s attention beyond college [access] towards post-secondary certification, associates, four-year completion and the specific high-wage/high-skill opportunities for students”
- “having students in the courses that did not need to be and/or were not motivated”
- “many of the students who take the class have struggled in [the discipline] for years and are not interested - thus the teacher has to get the students interested and turn negative feelings into positive ones”
- “the district has to offer the class but the students do not have to take the class - thus teachers are concerned about doing a large amount of prep work and not have a class”
These comments illustrate that readiness is not just about what happens in the classroom or what is said in one course, or even just ‘core’ courses. Readiness is a culture; to really support and improve readiness, every teacher and administrator should be involved. Though most of the CRAs were developed in the four ‘core’ content areas, this is really just to illustrate their use in the most common courses. CRAs are a style of instruction, focused on project and inquiry-based learning as well as skill development. All the CRAs – especially the cross-disciplinary CRAs – can be implemented in any course. Messages of readiness are much more powerful when students hear, see, and experience them again and again. Also, college prep courses are designed for struggling students, including students who may not be interested in taking them, so it is that much more important that schools create a positive culture that places value on these courses and the skills they develop. It is our hope that by developing interesting, beneficial courses, students will be more likely to enroll and engage.
- “extensive professional development”
- “having materials available”
- “teaching the course more as a hands-on format, more problem based or project based”
- “have something that is more practical and real-world situations”
- “limited human capital”
- “the availability of funding and facilities”
- “sitting and doing worksheets or even going straight from a book has not been successful”
- “finding materials that are interesting to the students and not the same old worksheet format”
These comments address the curriculum of the courses: where to find it, what to pick, and how to learn to implement it. Fortunately, craftx.org already has a selection of FREE, ready-to-use assignments specifically designed to improve college and career readiness skills. CRAs, along with accompanying training videos and other professional development resources on learning, readiness, and pedagogy, are available to all educators on craftx.org. These assignments are project and inquiry-based and involve real-world applications like evaluating websites, designing a skateboard ramp, and choosing which job to take. As mentioned in the previous section, engaging students is critical, so using engaging materials with real-world applications – like CRAs – is important to the success of college prep courses. Also, we know that schools have limited time and money, so we hope the free, easily-adaptable CRAs can add value, rather than effort or cost, to the college prep courses.
We look forward to seeing how these college prep courses continue to grow and evolve in the coming semesters, and we encourage you to use CRAFTx.org to assist your efforts.
Special thanks to Dr. Eduardo Cancino, Leesa Green, Linda Hammond, and Dr. Mary Harris for their contributions to this post.