Long Beach leads the way

Arie’ann Velasquez, 10, and her classmates tour Long Beach City College.

Long Beach, California has created viable kindergarten to high school to college pathways for its predominantly working-class students, reports The Atlantic.

Long Beach Unified, Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach collaborate closely to ensure students know their college options and are prepared to succeed.

Test scores, graduation rates, AP enrollment and college attendance rates have risen, even as the number of Latino students has increased, writes Lillian Mongeau.

When high school graduates with B’s and C’s were testing into remedial courses at City College, the college instructors got together with high school teachers to figure out how to strengthen the curriculum and raise expectations.

A collection of bills dubbed the California College Promise will “make several of Long Beach’s practices into state policy with the aim of seeing more California children to and through college,” reports The Atlantic.

What does a high school grad need to succeed?

Many years — perhaps 25 — ago, I was asked my advice on a school district’s new graduation requirements. I said, “Go to your local community college and to employers who hire high school graduates. Ask what skills and knowledge one of your graduates would need to have a chance of passing an entry-level course or qualifying for an entry-level job. That’s what your diploma should require.”

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. Photo: Elizabeth Redden, Hechinger Report

A high school diploma should signify the graduate is ready for the first year of college, writes Marc Tucker in Education Week. That “is a far higher standard than most high school diplomas are set to currently.”

He envisions states setting the syllabi for required core courses and writing the exams, which would be graded by outside teachers. That’s a radical power shift.

Well-prepared students could complete the core in two years, he believes. Some would have two years for Advanced Placement or other high-level courses. Others could learn high-level technical skills, like vocational students in Singapore and Switzerland, at a community college or their high school.

Everyone would be expected to pass by the end of 12th grade.

We would be doing high school in high school, not in college, and therefore saving enormous amounts of money for both states and families.  We would have more brain surgeons and more specialty welders.

High schools could be held accountable for the proportion of students who earn the new diploma and the proportion who complete two-year and four-year degrees, Tucker writes.

What do you think? Is it doable? Should it be tried?

States drop exams, give retroactive diplomas

States are dropping exit exams and giving retroactive high school diplomas to former students who never passed the exam, reports Catherine Gewertz in Education Week.

Georgia, Texas and South Carolina have issued thousands of diplomas to people who passed high school courses but failed the exit exam.In California, 35,000 or more people could qualify for diplomas. Arizona and Alaska also will issue retroactive diplomas.

Misty Hatcher is working toward a degree as a networking specialist at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, Ga. --Melissa Golden for Education Week

Misty Hatcher, who received a retroactive diploma, is working toward a networking degree at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, Ga. Photo: Melissa Golden, Education Week

“States are eliminating comprehensive tests in math and English/language arts in favor of end-of-course tests or other measures of high school achievement,” reports Gewertz. Many argue exit exams are “useless because they’re often pegged to 8th- or 9th-grade-level skills.”

That is, the exit exams were too easy.

California dropped its exam because it wasn’t aligned to Common Core State Standards. That is, it was too easy.

So people who couldn’t pass a test of eighth- and ninth-grade skills will receive high school diplomas.

Only 13 states still require students to pass an exit exam to earn a diploma, down from 25 in 2012, according to Jennifer Zinth of Education Commission of the States. Some states are now dropping end-of-course exams too.

They’re too hard.

Hanna Frank, Education Post’s social media manager, threw away her high school diploma, knowing she hadn’t earned it. She took remedial courses at her local community college, using up most of her financial aid, and managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in five years.

GED lowers the bar

Pass rates are way, way down on the new GED — and fewer people are taking the high school equivalency test. So the GED Testing Service is lowering the pass score from 150 to 145, reports NPR.

High school dropouts study for the GED exam in Dayton, Ohio.

Dropouts study for the GED in Dayton, Ohio.

The computerized exam, which replaced the old test in 2014, is aligned, so they say, with Common Core standards that are supposed to measure “career and college readiness.”

That’s a high bar for high school dropouts.

Now, the testing service says a score of 150 is higher than many high school graduates could earn. Earning 165 or higher certifies readiness for college-level work without remediation.

In addition to being harder, the new GED is more expensive. Test-takers have to pass all four sections at one time.

The GED had a near monopoly on high school equivalency certification, reports NPR.  Now 21 states have adopted alternative tests, such as the TASC and HiSET.

Educating the unready

“Corequisite remediation” — letting students take college-level requirements while catching up on basic skills — triples the (very low) success rate for unprepared college students, concludes Spanning the Divide, a new Complete College America report. Success is defined as the number of underprepared students who complete introductory college-level math and English courses.

One in three recent high school graduates — including 56 percent of blacks and 45 percent of Latinos — are placed in remedial courses, according to CCA.

The rate is higher at community colleges, where only 20 percent of remedial students go on to complete an introductory college course in their weak subject within two years.

Corequisite remediation raised the success rate to 61 percent in math and 64 percent in English, according to the report.

Rising grad rate is phony statistic

The high school graduation rate is “the phoniest statistic in education,” writes Robert Pondiscio. It’s up to a new high of 82 percent. But student proficiency isn’t up.  Neither is college readiness.

A high school diploma “signals to college admissions staffers, employers, and others that the holder has achieved some reasonable level of academic proficiency,” he writes. “But it’s also a faith-based system. It only works if people believe it stands for something tangible.”

There has been no equally dramatic spike in SAT scores. Don’t look for a parallel uptick on seventeen-year-old NAEP, better performance on AP tests, or the ACT, either. You won’t find it. The only thing that appears to be rising is the number of students in need of remedial math and English in college. And the number of press releases bragging about huge increases in graduation rates.

Rising graduation rates may reflect the drop in teen pregnancy and efforts to identify and help high-risk students, writes Motoko Rich in the New York Times. But schools and districts can pump up the numbers by making it easy for students to “recover” unearned credits.

In Baltimore, five-year graduation rates have risen from 66.7 percent in 2010 to 74.9 percent in 2014, notes Pondiscio.  But 36.5 percent of students graduated via the “High School Bridge for Academic Validation Plan.”

There’s “no way of knowing whether (credit recovery is) academically rigorous or merely a failsafe to paper over failure and drag unprepared kids across the finish line to boost graduation rates,” he writes. “There may yet be a pony at the bottom of this prodigious pile.” Or not.

New York City’s graduation rate has hit 70 percent, reports Chalkbeat. However, the 24 percent rise since 2005 “is sure to elicit questions about the meaning of those numbers, especially following a wave of media reports last year detailing incidents where schools changed students’ grades or awarded them unearned credits in order to help them graduate.”

NY asks more on algebra test — and more fail

“If the percentage of students passing the Algebra I exam falls to 63 percent from 72 percent, and the passing grade is scheduled to increase by 9 points in coming years, should the test be made easier?” That’s the question facing New York state education officials, according to the New York Times.

In 2013, the State Board of Regents decided too many high school graduates were unprepared for college. They revamped English and Algebra I exams required for graduation and made plans to raise the passing score to a “college-ready” level.

Pass rates have fallen on new Core-aligned exams. Statewide, less than a quarter of students met the “college-ready” level in Algebra I. Here are sample questions, which seem easy to me.

It’s even worse in New York City, where “only 52 percent of students passed the 2015 exam, down from 65 percent the previous year on the old exam,” reports the Times. “Just 16 percent reached the ‘college-ready’ level.”

Among the ideas the city is considering: having fifth graders take math with a specialized instructor instead of one teacher for all subjects; teaming up with local universities to get more sixth- and seventh-grade math teachers certified in math instruction; creating summer programs for middle- and high-school students who are struggling in math; and training middle-school and algebra teachers in how to address students’ “math anxiety.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged that all students will have access to algebra in eighth grade by 2022, and all students will complete algebra by the end of ninth grade.

At Park East High School in Manhattan, most students enter doing math below grade level, yet 91 percent of students who took the Algebra I Regents this year passed it.

Ninth graders have two periods of algebra each day, which crowds out art, music and health.

It’s easy to graduate college students — by cheating

Community college leaders want more students, more graduates and more money, a professor tells  Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. More doesn’t always mean more learning, says “Nancy.”

While 85 percent of new students say they want a four-year college degree, only 15 percent will earn one in six years, writes Mathews. Colleges are trying to lower the dropout rate by creating special courses for first-year students.

At Nancy’s college, faculty chose “a textbook that would help students look at reasons why so many classmates skipped class and didn’t complete assignments. They also asked the students to write about their college experiences.”

A new supervisor told instructors to “eliminate the writing assignments and choose a different textbook,” Nancy said.

The seminar instructors were told: “Our current ninth-grade reading level textbook is too difficult for our incoming students. Make the course have a 100 percent pass rate, no matter what,” Nancy said. She said this last bit of advice eliminates the usefulness of the course as a tool for helping students adjust to college expectations and reduces it to social promotion.

The instructors were told to “make the course more tangible,” she said. “Students like practical advice, like how to register for classes. They don’t like introspection and they should not have to write.”

Some community colleges are placing fewer new students in remedial classes. Instead, unprepared students are allowed to take college-level courses with access to remedial help.

Colleges have a financial incentive to lower standards, Nancy said. They fear that colleges with very low graduation rates may lose eligibility for federal student aid.  “It is difficult to achieve a higher graduation rate honestly, and it is relatively easy to cheat, or at least to bend the rules.”

College pays — for some, not all

College pays — on average — but your results may vary, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. That last part is important: College doesn’t pay for the poorly prepared, who are unlikely to earn a degree.

The college wage premium has risen sharply in the last 30 years for U.S. males, concludes a working paper. However, there’s a much larger gap between high-earning and low-earning graduates.

“More people start college than did in 1985,” writes McArdle. “It’s just that they don’t finish.”

Dropping out may be a sensible decision for low-tier students who are likely to end up in low-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. Why borrow to be a barista?

While we’d like to think of enrolling in college as a guaranteed route to a stable, well-paying job, in reality it’s more like a lottery ticket. There are good jobs out there that are available only to folks with a college diploma. But not everyone with a college diploma gets one. You can also end up underemployed.

. . . Of course, it’s not exactly like a lottery ticket, because the distribution of the rewards isn’t random. Not every college graduate is entered in the “investment banker” or “Silicon Valley software engineer” draws.

According to this model, “the gains from pushing marginal students into college are likely to be small, for both the students and for society,” McArdle concludes.

People who’ve had trouble learning — and getting their work done — in high school occasionally bloom in college. But not very often.

Hunger Games or The Odyssey?


Katniss Everdeen is the hero of the Hunger Games series.

A rising junior, she’d joined an elite group of students for a summer enrichment program on a prestigious college campus. They were preparing for Advanced Placement English in the fall. She thought she was ready, writes Brooke Haycock for Education Trust.

The teacher asked them to pull out the first book they’d be reading that fall in AP in their schools.

The private school students’ backpacks unfurled as they reached for their copies of The Odyssey and works by authors like Emerson and Goethe.

“And we pull out,” she paused for effect, “The Hunger Games.”

The girl was used to listening to a teacher lecture and reading the text.

“Everything in this summer program, like, every single class is conversation. And just constantly, as you read, as you discuss, you’re taking deep notes. You’re constantly taking notes and learning.”

. . . “In this summer program, we read only original authors. So you’re reading Lucretius, you’re reading, um, Aristotle. Those are the ones we read in our one week there. Um, Metamorphosis of Plants by Goethe. And, to me, it was just so crazy, like, how many of those kids knew those things already and had been exposed to them.”

“We’re going to be taking the same AP test,” the girl said. “The exact same test. We need to know the same exact things.”

This is the real inequity: High-aspiring, hard-working, capable students are set up to fail in college.