AISR Speaks Out: Commentary on Urban Education

The Value of College Readiness Indicators and Interventions: Lessons from Chicago

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Jacob Mishook
Unless districts put early warning indicators in place and provide appropriate interventions to students identified as struggling, higher standards will only serve to increase dropout rates.

As the U.S. economy continues to move towards one that requires post-secondary education and training, there is a significant need for districts, higher education institutions, and communities to better prepare young people to enter, persist, and graduate from college. One of the primary roles that districts and their partners can play is to identify and develop a system of college readiness indicators – and to tie those indicators to individualized supports and interventions.

That is the goal of the College Readiness Indicator Systems (CRIS) project, which brings together two higher education organizations – the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and the John W. Gardner Center at Stanford University – and five district partners – Dallas Independent School District, New Visions for Public Schools in New York City, the School District of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh Public Schools, and San Jose Unified School District – with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

As part of the CRIS work, the Annenberg Institute periodically invites like-minded organizations to present their research around college readiness to inform the ongoing indicator development in the CRIS districts. AISR sponsored a webinar on September 30, 2011, led by Elaine Allensworth, Senior Director and Chief Research Officer at the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), on how CCSR and Chicago Public Schools have developed a set of college readiness indicators over the past decade.

Allensworth shared her findings that while GPA is a much-maligned indicator, combining GPA with the number of course failures in ninth grade gives a highly accurate predictor of high school graduation. The key indicators for GPA and course failures, in turn, are  attendance and effort. But what drives attendance and effort? Allensworth and her colleagues discovered that strong attendance and effort depended on high levels of teacher monitoring and teacher support for challenging course content.

However, increased curricular rigor by itself is actually counterproductive: it increases the dropout rate.

On the basis of this research, Chicago Public Schools has developed an early warning system to identify students in danger of not being college ready. And this warning system is tied to a district-developed handbook of interventions to improve student performance. This approach – an early warning system tied to interventions – is paying dividends in CPS. There has been a significant increase in ninth-grade on-track rates and higher course pass rates.

Dr. Allensworth’s presentation and deep collaboration with Chicago Public Schools has illuminated a number of predictive indicators for college readiness and put into action a set of activities and interventions to improve students’ readiness for college. We encourage you to explore the full set of resources provided for the webinar.

Many questions remain; the CRIS Network, building on Allensworth’s findings, is working to address them.

  • Are the indicators that identify students who aren’t on track for college readiness the same ones that will point to interventions for those students?

  • What is the balance between having a parsimonious number of predictive indicators – typically measures of academic preparedness – and taking into account the  harder-to-measure indicators of academic tenacity and “college knowledge,” which also impact college readiness?

  • In this fiscally uncertain time, how can districts leverage their limited resources to best support schools using data to identify “off-track” students and provide necessary interventions?

AISR pioneered the concept of “smart districts” in 2002 through the work of the School Communities That Work task force. A key function of smart districts is to help others throughout the system to analyze and use data effectively. (See pdf"School Communities that Work for Results and Equity.") College Readiness Indicator Systems that link data to interventions can help districts provide that support, and will be essential in an era where post-secondary education is a requirement, not a luxury. 

Jacob Mishook
Senior Research Associate, District Redesign
Annenberg Institute for School Reform envelope