The real les­son about fail­ings in state ed­u­ca­tion

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - More Opinion - WENDY LECKER Wendy Lecker is a colum­nist for the Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia Group and is se­nior at­tor­ney at the Ed­u­ca­tion Law Cen­ter.

A new re­port on re­me­dial place­ment in Con­necti­cut’s state uni­ver­si­ties and com­mu­nity col­leges has the me­dia draw­ing the pre­dictable, but wrong, les­sons: Con­necti­cut pub­lic schools are fail­ing and we need more “ac­count­abil­ity.”

The head­lines are sen­sa­tional — al­most half of Con­necti­cut pub­lic school grad­u­ates who at­tend col­lege may not even “know how to read their own diplo­mas.” Some out­lets sug­gested “rais­ing stan­dards,” and ques­tioned Con­necti­cut’s lack of a stan­dard­ized high school exit exam.

How­ever, a care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of the re­port, the re­search on col­lege re­me­di­a­tion and the chal­lenges fac­ing our most vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents leads to dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions.

The re­port was put out by P20WIN, a joint col­lab­o­ra­tion among the Con­necti­cut State De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, the Board of Re­gents for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, and the De­part­ment of La­bor. It looked at Con­necti­cut high school grad­u­ates from 2010, 2011 and 2012 who en­tered Con­necti­cut state uni­ver­si­ties, ex­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut, and com­mu­nity col­leges. Those stu­dents rep­re­sent about one-third of Con­necti­cut pub­lic high school grad­u­ates.

Dur­ing the years an­a­lyzed in the re­port, the ba­sis for place­ment in re­me­dial classes in Con­necti­cut’s com­mu­nity col­leges and state uni­ver­si­ties was one stan­dard­ized test: in the com­mu­nity col­leges, it was the Ac­cu­placer test, and the state uni­ver­si­ties used the SAT or ACT.

Com­pre­hen­sive largescale stud­ies have shown that the use of these stan­dard­ized tests alone for de­ter­min­ing place­ment mis-as­signs a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of stu­dents to re­me­dial cour­ses — stu­dents who would have suc­ceeded in credit-bear­ing col­lege cour­ses. One study of tens of thou­sands of stu­dents demon­strated that that a third of stu­dents were mis-as­signed to re­me­dial English cour­ses and a quar­ter of stu­dents were mis-as­signed to re­me­dial math. This study also proved that a stu­dent’s high school GPA was a much bet­ter pre­dic­tor of a stu­dent’s proper place­ment than these stan­dard­ized tests.

The ACT and SAT have also been shown in nu­mer­ous na­tion­wide stud­ies to be a poor pre­dic­tor of col­lege suc­cess — and con­sis­tently in­fe­rior as a pre­dic­tor than one’s high school GPA.

Of the one-third of Con­necti­cut high school grad­u­ates, the re­port claimed that al­most half, so about 16 per­cent of grad­u­ates, were placed in re­me­dial cour­ses based on one stan­dard­ized test. It is highly likely that al­most a third of those stu­dents were mis-as­signed to re­me­dial cour­ses. Thus, the head­lines should have read that maybe 10 per­cent of Con­necti­cut high school grad­u­ates need re­me­dial cour­ses in col­lege. Less sen­sa­tional than claim­ing that 10,000 stu­dents can­not read their own diplo­mas, but more ac­cu­rate.

One les­son ig­nored by the me­dia is that stan­dard­ized tests are deeply flawed mea­sures and do real harm. The re­search has shown col­lege re­me­di­a­tion does not in­crease the rate of col­lege suc­cess. Worse, mis-as­sign­ment to re­me­dial cour­ses in col­lege in­creases the like­li­hood of drop­ping out by eight per­cent­age points.

As the Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil has shown, more than a decade of test-based ac­count­abil­ity has not moved the nee­dle at all on stu­dent achieve­ment. Con­stant as­sess­ment, often in­ac­cu­rate, al­ways in­com­plete, cou­pled with puni­tive con­se­quences, is a proven recipe for fail­ure.

Who are the stu­dents who are un­der­pre­pared? A Man­ches­ter Com­mu­nity Col­lege pro­fes­sor, Patrick Sul­li­van, gives some in­sight in a pa­per he wrote re­cently about his ex­pe­ri­ence teach­ing a re­me­dial

Thus, the head­lines should have read that maybe 10 per­cent of Con­necti­cut high school grad­u­ates need re­me­dial cour­ses in col­lege.

course in Con­necti­cut. Many of the stu­dents have faced ma­jor chal­lenges out­side the class­room that af­fected their learn­ing through­out their ca­reer, such as in­ter­rupted ed­u­ca­tion in their home coun­tries, lan­guage bar­ri­ers, hous­ing and food in­se­cu­rity, vi­o­lence, trauma and other ob­sta­cles as­so­ci­ated with liv­ing in poverty. Many now have to jug­gle jobs and chil­dren along­side their stud­ies.

These are the many of the same chal­lenges chil­dren in Con­necti­cut’s need­i­est school dis­tricts en­counter — the ones that need to be mit­i­gated in or­der for stu­dents to learn suc­cess­fully. As Jus­tice Richard Palmer noted in his dis­sent in the CCJEF school fund­ing de­ci­sion: “Res­i­dents of our poor­est com­mu­ni­ties, even those hun­gry to learn, may have to over­come a host of ob­sta­cles be­fore they are able to at­tend to frac­tions and Fitzger­ald.”

Re­search has shown that pro­vid­ing sys­temic aca­demic and so­cial sup­ports to stu­dents has long-term pos­i­tive im­pacts on stu­dent out­comes. It stands to rea­son that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of our un­der­pre­pared col­lege stu­dents would have been more pre­pared had they been pro­vided the sup­ports, dur­ing their pub­lic school ca­reer, that the CCJEF court found were se­verely lack­ing in our poor­est dis­tricts.

The sec­ond les­son from this re­port should be, then, that rather than dou­bling down on failed test-based ac­count­abil­ity, we should be in­vest­ing our ef­forts and our re­sources in pro­vid­ing sup­ports proven to help our need­i­est stu­dents learn and live suc­cess­fully.

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