Being that as it may, let's turn down the lights and try reflecting for a moment with this chant humming along your neurons. Inhale....exhale ssstttuuu...sssssss....Think about it. What thoughts are floating into your consciousness? What images ebb and flow in your brain waves? And how would you describe the floating experience of "student success". Now think about how you are measuring it? Can you measure it?
Most of us have our own ideas about what should be taught in school, how it should be taught, and what kids should know at the end of grade 8 or 12 (or 14 or 16.. or even 20, for that matter). If they know it and can do it, then we punch their tickets and consider them ready for life-after-high-school. They're branded "successful students" (albeit, in varying degrees) and ready to move on. When you listen to anyone who's ever weighed in, you eventually reach the conclusion that this much we know - school is a good place for kids to be; that is, as long as they remain in school beyond grade 12. The research backs it up.
We know that school is a good place to be because of the piles of data collected in recent years that show the value of education in terms of how much money you've banked, whether you dine on Taco Bell or Bell & Evans, if you remember to vote and care to show up at the polls, and if you choose to volunteer or are forced to live in fear..of the next crisis - health, financial, or otherwise - that puts you under. If schools function to prepare students for productive work and active citizenship, then we know they may be (for those students who are successful) effective at doing both. So, we can safely conclude that a relationship exists between higher education and higher income, etc. (see Education Pays, But How Much?). This is why we know that school is a good place for kids to be - as long as they remain in school through some form of higher education.
But do we know what it really means to be an educated human being? And do we really know what we should expect a high school graduate to know and do at graduation in 2014? Well, apparently, now we do with the arrival of Common Core Standards. Conventional wisdom tells us that if students exhibit mastery of these standards, then they should be deemed educated high school graduates. What we don't know yet, though, is if these students who are stamped "educated" by common core standards will be automatically deliverable to college campuses and the like. Still, will they be considered successful students? Will their student success plans be realized?
And what about the "decision-makers" in higher education - those housed in the towers of college admissions. Will they agree? Will Higher Ed accept these common core standards as valid and reliable measures of college/career readiness? Or will colleges continue to rely upon the tried-and-true measurable known as the SAT/ACT? Just wondering, too, if there will be any relationship between performance on say, Smarter Balanced, and the aforementioned time-tested measures. Face it - there hasn't been at all with CAPT. Everyone knows how (un)important CAPT scores are in the college admissions process at public universities in CT. Is this about to change?
So, what this is all about, really, is coming to terms with "student success" - arriving at some common agreement. What does a successful student look like? What must s/he know and be able to do? Below is one definition offered by the CT State Department of Education (CSDE) when the "Student Success Plan" was first introduced a few years ago.
"The State Board of Education defines successful students as those who can read, write, compute, analyze information, think critically and creatively, solve problems, communicate effectively, and use technology. All students should also enjoy and perform in the arts and athletics, and understand history, science, and other cultures and languages. Each student must share ample responsibility for his or her learning and behavior, be able to persevere at complex tasks, work well with and be helpful to others, and contribute to the community. All students must graduate from high school and be prepared to continue their education, become productive members of the workforce and function in the global economy. Ultimately, students must become engaged
citizens and lifelong learners who lead healthy and productive lives."
There you have it. That's "student success" defined. Easy to measure, right?
See how easy it isn't?
If students are being asked to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, etc.), then shouldn't educators model this same behavior (totally rhetorical - of course)? The next obvious question is - "how"?
President Barack Obama is on a final term mission to dramatically increase the number of high school graduates who are college and career ready, and he's making a last ditch effort to put higher education within financial reach of lower- and middle-class families. OK - it's a worthy goal. But, is it a SMART goal? What does college/career readiness mean and how does one measure this?
Here's the simple answer - college/career readiness means ready to pursue college/a career. Take another look at the aforementioned CSDE definition of student success and extract this line - "All students must graduate from high school and be prepared to continue their education..." How does one know if a student is prepared to continue her/his education?
Up to now, high schools and higher schools (colleges) haven't agreed with each other on what a student should know and do at the time in their lives when they become eligible to vote. Of the seventy percent of high school graduates who go on to some form of higher education, less than half actually complete a four-year degree (it's about 28% of the population). And many take more than four years to do it. For those who choose (or have no choice but to go to) community colleges, about forty percent don't meet the benchmarks on placement tests and are placed initially in not-yet-ready-for-prime-time remedial courses that cost lots of money but are worth nothing in terms of college credits. For the vast majority of these students, college ends before they officially ever get there (see False Hope ). And, thankfully, this weak deal is about to end in 2015, anyway, when Accuplacer is phased out. Know what else? There is a significant disconnect between the perceptions of secondary school educators and college faculty as they relate to preparation for Higher Ed. The former thinks the majority of high school graduates are prepared and the latter thinks otherwise.
So, does a high school diploma automatically guarantee college/career readiness? Obviously not. Of course, there isn't any fool-proof, lock-down guarantee available, either. But there are measurables that appear to reliably predict success and, thus, college/career readiness. It's the...uh-oh... hot-button test score. You know - the one that is becoming optional for admission to more and more colleges (and not for reasons you may think).
Let's jolt those brain waves generated by the ssstttuuu...incantation. What if college/career readiness was defined as a SMART goal (what a brilliant thought - modeling desirable behavior for students) and the ACT benchmark of 21 or SAT score of 1550 was used as a measurable? Both the ACT and The College Board claim to provide extensive research to support their numbers, and it's all available at the click of a mouse or tap of a finger (just click here and here). In fact, the ACT even makes it easy by linking its test to common core standards. If a student reaches, at minimum, either benchmark, then the number provides valid and reliable evidence that s/he is ready for success in life-after-high-school. Those numbers - 19 and 1550 - represent the bare minimum. It's kind of like Malcolm Gladwell's "tipping point". You can argue the difference between a 21 and, say, a 23 or a 1550 and 1650, as relative predictors of success later on, but the tipping point has been set at 21 and 1550. It's in the data. Is there a more valid and reliable measure available to suggest? If you think so, then offer it up in the "forum" page on this website. What is it?
Critics will argue that success should not (and cannot) be reduced to a single number earned on one benchmark. Fair enough - except that what is the bar exam to law students, licensing exams to the vast majority of trades, PRAXIS to aspiring teachers, sales targets to salespeople, enrollment benchmarks to enrollment managers, bowl-eligibility to college football coaches, season win-loss records for high school coaches and tournament eligibility, APRs to college sports programs, judges' scores at gymnastics competitions and musical auditions, and...? Heck, what's a 20-minute job interview if not a test? Or even a first-time date, for that matter? You know what, though? In virtually every case here, you get a second chance, and even a third or fourth. The point is that a benchmark has been determined and participants are measured against it. They know it going in and (should) prepare accordingly. After all, you can't get there if you don't know where you're going. The benchmark, like it or not, provides the destination and @yousetyourgps accordingly. Each time you take it, you get feedback. Remember - the Growth Mindset! Learn from the feedback and adjust your GPS. Do it again and check your results. That's life. We're wrong more often than we're right...that is, if we're really trying. Remember Mae West's disclosure - "I've climbed the ladder of success one wrong at a time."
Let's acknowledge (meaning - we know this) that a four-year degree is not for every high school
graduate - nor should it have to be. But some form of higher education needs to be, especially in a changing economy that's beginning to take on an hour-glass shape, one in which there will be plenty of jobs available that require professional degrees and plenty that we'll always need - plumbers, electricians, automotive technicians - that will still require certification and requisite skills as evidenced by performance on entrance exams mandated for admission to certification programs. If the numbers tell a story, almost 4 of every 10 students aren't going there. And, of those who are, some aren't able to enroll in "ready-for-prime-time" courses because...well, you know why. This leaves too many kids academically adrift, and they're not even in college. Student success? It's not measured simply by earning a high school diploma. Not anymore.
We know that school is a good place to be for students. We know, too, that schools can produce productive citizens who are prepared to successfully enter the workforce. And we also know that high school graduates need to move on to some form of meaningful educational experience if they have any chance of meaningful employment in their adult lives. Our President is on a mission to remind us of this. If students do move on, we want to know they'll likely become productive citizens (it means being ready to move on!). If they don't, well...you don't need a test score to make this prediction. But they may very well be better off with at least a 21 or a 1550. These numbers won't measure happiness, grit, personality, and the like - at least, directly. And, granted, some things that really count in life can't be counted (Einstein). But at least these numbers will provide valid and reliable evidence that anyone who hits these benchmarks is ready for prime-time college courses. And the numbers will suggest that authentic hope is there for achievement in some form of higher education, thereby reducing the false hope that's there now for too many. That's college/career readiness. That's a genuine version of student success. One measure. Definable and measurable. No guarantee. Could someone succeed without these numbers? Possibly. But not probably - and it's really about probability. Is there another way?
Next time you reflect upon student success, try 21...1550...21...1550...21...1550,...