Personalized Pathways to Success: Schools Are Using Data about College and Career Readiness of Students to Focus and Refine Their Systems of Support

By Westover, Jay | Leadership, May-June 2012 | Go to article overview

Personalized Pathways to Success: Schools Are Using Data about College and Career Readiness of Students to Focus and Refine Their Systems of Support


Westover, Jay, Leadership


The term "college and career ready" has become widely used as a result of the proposed Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization and Common Core State Standards movement. As we move toward what may be considered a moral and economic imperative for our nation's students, it is essential that we first identify the gaps of college and career readiness both in our students and within our systems of practice.

In working with districts across California, a simple yet compelling example observed while leading instructional rounds in a high school conveys the extent to which these gaps exist. In the first classroom the following occurred:

* On the board were five terms: setting, tone, mood, character and plot. The teacher asked students to spend three minutes writing independently how these terms are used to describe a story. At the conclusion of three minutes, students were asked to turn to a partner and share what they had written for two minutes. Following the dialogue, four students were randomly selected to read what they had written and what their partner dialog may have clarified. Each student spoke with clarity and precision as to how these terms explained the structure of a story.

In the second classroom the following occurred:

* On the board was the number 2/3. Students were asked by the teacher to name the reciprocal. After many prompts without correct student responses, the terms opposite and negative were shared by the teacher and written on the board. With additional student prompting the teacher wrote the number -3/2 on the board. Students then were given the opportunity in pairs to find the reciprocals of several other fractions, during which time students struggled with the structured interaction. After 10 minutes students were confident in their ability to conceptually understand the meaning of a reciprocal number.

How does this observation convey the gaps of college and career readiness? In debriefing with teachers participating in the instructional rounds, it was asked what would be required for the students in the Algebra 1 class to successfully complete the same task asked of the freshman English students. After a discussion of the scaffolding needed, the time frame of two periods was decided upon.

The stark difference between these two classrooms conveys the gaps of college and career readiness of our students--academic language, higher order skills, academic behaviors and real-world applications. These four attributes both define a college and career ready student and demonstrate the gaps within student abilities. Closing these gaps truly is a moral and economic imperative of our nation's schools.

Defining college and career ready

The research on college and career readiness has been clearly articulated. The culmination of this work can be translated into the four attributes of a college and career ready student as depicted in the diagram at right. A school needs only to assess its students' abilities and performance using these attributes to identify the extent to which student cohorts are prepared for college and ready for the workforce, and in doing so assess the effectiveness of its student support systems.

In looking back at the two classroom observations, the student gaps become exceptionally clear based upon students' academic behavior and ability to use academic language and higher order skills to solve a problem. In the first classroom students would be able to apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems, whereas in the second classroom students would struggle.

These gaps become even more problematic as students enter into postsecondary education and the workforce. The American Management Association, based on a poll of business executives across the United States, stated that without the ability to effectively communicate, engage in critical thinking, and collaborate to solve problems innovatively and with creativity, high school graduates are unemployable--or at best employees with no potential for upward mobility in the organization. …

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