Celebrating 10 Years of College Results Online!

Ten years ago, we created College Results Online to challenge the conventional wisdom that colleges’ graduation rates were simply a function of the students they served. Since then, this online tool has shown us that colleges serving similar students often get very different results.

College Results Online began with only 1,400 four-year colleges and CROCelebrationuniversities, and now we have data on more than 2,300 postsecondary institutions. Ed Trust has added new data as it has become available — like the average net price for low-income students — that allows students and parents to make more informed decisions about which institution provides them with the best value.

More recently, we’ve introduced some new features and resources:

  • A video to show users how to get the most out of College Results Online
  • Symbols that tag colleges with extremely low graduation rates (what we call “college dropout factories”) and colleges with little socioeconomic diversity (our “engines of inequality”)
  • An interactive map that identifies the nation’s lowest performing colleges and institutions

Year after year we mine the data in College Results Online to identify institutions that outperform their peers on a variety of student access, affordability, and success indicators. Despite the additions and tweaks we’ve made over the past 10 years, the data consistently tell the same story: Not all colleges are created equal and what institutions do matters.

Too Much Testing? Or Not Enough Quality Testing?

As an educator who has spent nearly all of her professional life in urban education, I am deeply concerned about the direction that current (and admittedly much-needed) discussions about over-testing in our public schools has taken.

Rather than focusing our ire on the countless poor-quality, unaligned, often mind-numbing “extra” tests that, along with test preparation, have come to take up so much instructional time, we seem poised to eliminate tests that actually let us see how we are doing across large groups of students. And in the ultimate irony, we seem ready to do so just when educators and students badly need feedback on where they are on our new and much higher standards and just when those in many states are about to get that feedback on what promises to be higher quality assessments than ever before.

Every educator knows that statewide tests don’t tell us everything we need to know about student performance. But my own experiences have convinced me that — contrary to their current portrayals as useless and burdensome for teachers and students — they are an important tool for gauging the progress of students and schools. Think, for a moment, about how school and district leaders use these assessments to identify areas of strength and weakness. Think, too, about the ways in which teacher and administrator teams integrate data from statewide annual assessments into their efforts to assure the progress of every child or to adjust practice to patterns in student performance. And think about how education leaders have used these annual results to push hard conversations (and even harder actions) to ensure we are holding ourselves and each other responsible for educating all groups of kids to high levels.

Education_Trust_132 (1024x683)We want to eliminate those assessments now?

Yes, I know that many school and district leaders obsess about these tests. Even though research makes it abundantly clear that the best preparation for standards-based tests is good, standards-based instruction, these leaders opt for weeks of drill and routinized test prep — sometimes at the expense of rich, learning opportunities. And believe me, I recognize such patterns are too often found in schools serving students from low-income communities and students of color.

Tests are meant to chart progress toward high academic achievement for all students, not to become the sole focus of classroom time. They provide a much-needed lens for educators to compare their students with others across community borders and zip codes. Further still, teachers get a glimpse of how individual students are performing according to statewide standards of college and career readiness. One teacher noted to me, “I use the student state test data to give me information about how my teaching of key concepts, such as fractions, actually translated for my students compared to students across the state.” This is the same teacher who also developed group math and robotics investigations for young people across her district, not someone fixated on standardized testing.

First-hand accounts like that make me — as both an educator and a parent of three children of color in public schools — especially concerned about current efforts to eliminate one of the most useful tools we have for gauging student and school progress. I find it disconcerting that we would so easily dismiss annual, end-of-year testing as a meaningless exercise. Would we do this knowing that many school and district leaders use these assessments to chart their students’ progress toward standards? That there are schools that successfully integrate state annual assessments for every child as a part of how they adjust practice? That many an educational leader has used these annual results to push hard conversations (and even harder actions) to ensure we are holding ourselves and each other responsible for educating all kids — not just the kids from wealthier zip codes — to high levels?

As a country we do not have a particularly stellar — let alone long-standing — track record of holding ourselves accountable for the achievement of all kids. We also know that there are schools and students for whom testing is only one small moment in an overall engaging learning experience; while for others testing consumes the preponderance of professional conversations and class time. Let’s work harder to rectify the latter so that we can have more examples of schools maintaining a healthy balance of reasonable assessment and high-quality learning experiences. Let’s stop this spiral into broad generalizations that do nothing to address the real issues that underlie the heart of educational equity.

What Would Happen Without Annual Testing?

I have a very personal connection to annual testing.

When my daughter began elementary school, I decided to enroll her in a school with ethnic and economic diversity. I didn’t want her to be the only little, black girl in her class, but I also didn’t want to sacrifice academic rigor. To find the best school for her, I pored over annual test scores and demographic information of nearby schools, and I could see that the students — largely black and brown kids — at one school in particular were performing well when compared with their more affluent peers. I could also see the school’s feeder patterns into high schools were promising. It made me feel confident about sending my child there. So, armed with that information, I handed over my little one. Continue reading

Grappling With Disturbing Discrepancies in Discipline

It’s sometimes thought that teachers support the suspension and expulsion of trouble-making students, but the two major teacher unions have both opposed excluding students for any but the most serious of offenses.

Certainly teachers want to be backed up by their administrators when they feel a student is acting out inappropriately, but the unions both note the extreme disruption to education that suspensions and other forms of exclusion represent. As they say, a student who has been suspended for 10 days arrives back at school needing even more help than when they left — which puts their teachers in very difficult situations. (In Huffington Post this week, I talk about new research that casts this issue in a new light.) Continue reading

What’s the Score on Assessments? Most Say to Keep Them Annual and Make Them Count

Today’s Senate hearing on assessments and accountability reaffirms why annual statewide testing used to prompt meaningful action is essential for continuing the academic progress we’ve seen for students and schools over the last decade.

When students take a statewide assessment each year, educators and parents get a clear report on how those children are doing — information that’s comparable with their peers in school, within the district, and across the state. Without uniform annual statewide assessments, educators and parents lose that regular, objective lens.

Continue reading

Why I Teach Where I Teach: The Opportunity to Share in Schoolwide Decisions

This post is a part of an ongoing series, called “Why I Teach Where I Teach,” which WhyITeachWhereITeach_1-05asks educators in high-need schools to share what has attracted (and kept) them in the challenging environments they’re in. They share important stories and experiences that should remind us all of the power of strong school leadership, a network of supportive colleagues, and the genuine opportunity to have a say in schoolwide decisions. Listen up! They’re teaching us.

Arnold Pulda is a U.S. history teacher at University Park Campus School in Massachusetts, which is 82 percent low-income students. He has been an educator for 21 years; the last four have been at University Park. He writes the sixth entry in this series.

ArnoldWhat a pleasure — a chance to dispel a myth or two about teaching at a school that might be called “challenging.” The main challenge at University Park Campus School is the school itself: It is old and shows it age. But everything else works in our favor: motivated students and parents, a smart and committed staff, and terrific administration. Students are disadvantaged economically, but in every other way, they are fully advantaged — even privileged — to attend a school that is ranked among the best in the state. There are only about 20 of us on staff, and we operate as a family: We are open, honest, and fully “on the same page” in sharing a common mission to set and maintain the highest standards, care about each other and our students, and share our best practices for the benefit of everyone. We are an Innovation School in Massachusetts, which grants us significant freedoms in hiring, scheduling, and creating policy and curriculum. This means the staff is empowered to collectively share in all important decisions. We deal with the whole student: We are aware of issues and problems that students are experiencing at home and in school, and we are proactive in taking ameliorative measures when needed. When we say that we are invested — as a community, in the success of every student — we mean it, and our record shows that our efforts are productive in almost every case. Continue reading

Between the Echoes: Broken School Windows and Unbreakable Boys

BetweenTheEchoesLogo01An offshoot of Ed Trust’s Echoes From the Gap series, drawing stories of students from behind the statistics, this blog series shares shorter narratives — brief glimpses into classrooms and hallways — that give readers an opportunity to examine educator practices and policies through the intimate lens of student experience. All stories are based on interviews or first-hand accounts, but are shared with respect for the privacy of students and the adults around them.

It started with a hat.

“Take that off.” One of three posted at the school entrance, the school resource officer was twice the size of the boy. His badge hung around his neck, a shining reminder that, even in school, black boys were suspects before students. Even sometimes in the eyes of men who looked like them.

Youthful defiance and a still developing ability to negotiate power dynamics, the boy refused.

“Take off that Santa Claus hat.”

The hat was from his mother.

It escalated, neither student nor adult professional backing down. It was no longer about a hat or a school rule. It was about power. And respect.

“You know I can put you in cuffs and arrest you right now. I can put you in that squad car right now!” Continue reading

Dumb Policy Ideas Not Limited to the Far Right

The joint proposal for ESEA reauthorization from the Center for American Progress and the American Federation of Teachers shows that bad policy ideas aren’t limited to the far right. If adopted, these policies would return us to a time when how much students learned hardly mattered (that is, to anybody but them).

The proposal would reduce the focus on student learning in state accountability systems, encouraging the layering on of other “quality” measures that could easily have the effect of explaining away poor student outcomes. Further, by focusing accountability on a single grade level in a school, the proposal would encourage teachers to flee that grade level and reduce the focus on moving achievement for all children. And ironically, in states that factor student learning growth into teacher evaluation, many teachers would be held accountable for student learning, but their schools would not.

The education community has seen this story before: Instead of the rigorous, annual accountability for growth in academic achievement that we needed to improve their education, we asked whether low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities felt good about themselves or whether they got some extra counseling. Let us not repeat that story. Those who care about making sure that these students are well-prepared for college, careers, and the responsibilities of citizenship should reject this proposal out of hand.

Civil Rights Organizations Agree: Students Who Aren’t Tested Won’t Count

Today, a large coalition of civil rights and disabilities organizations — including The Education Trust — released its top priorities for Congress to consider when reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as ESEA, later this year. Among those priorities, at least one might come as a bit of a surprise: continuation of the federal requirement that states test all students in grades three through eight once a year, and again at least once during high school.

Why would these groups, many of which have a long history of fighting against the misuse of tests to hold students back, remove them from the regular curriculum or deny them admission to the best high schools, embrace the testing requirement so unequivocally?

The reason is simple: Kids who are not tested end up not counting. Continue reading

Why I Teach Where I Teach: Because I’m Needed

WhyITeachWhereITeach_1-05This post is a part of an ongoing series, called “Why I Teach Where I Teach,” which asks educators in high-need schools to share what has attracted (and kept) them in the challenging environments they’re in. They share important stories and experiences that should remind us all of the power of strong school leadership, a network of supportive colleagues, and the genuine opportunity to have a say in schoolwide decisions. Listen up! They’re teaching us.

Angela Campbell is in her 20th year as an educator in southern California, working in schools with high percentages of non-native English-speakers. Currently, she is a science teacher at John Francis Polytechnic Senior High School and a member of the 2014 Educators 4 Excellence Los Angeles Teacher Policy Team. Angela writes the fifth entry in this series.

AngelaCampbellPhotoI’ve always been a high achiever. I was valedictorian in high school and received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford. Sadly, in part because of this, friends often ask me why I became a science teacher, and many of them wonder why I choose to teach in public schools.

Part of the answer to these questions begins with language. I teach in a school where 97 percent of the students are Latino and the majority qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. I speak Spanish fluently, and I want to work in a place where I am able to use those skills for the benefit of kids and their families. I saw that there was a significant achievement gap between kids with parents who could not interact directly with teachers and school personnel and kids with parents who could. I want to be part of helping kids from Spanish-speaking families to take full advantage of the education system.

I also feel a deep responsibility to help raise a generation of science-literate people, especially among those who are traditionally underrepresented in the fields of science and engineering. I try my best to open doors in STEM for girls and students of color because these groups need a much bigger voice and presence in the world of science.

Simply stated, I teach where I teach because I believe in the potential of my students, and I want my skills to be put to the use of unlocking that potential, which has been held back for far too long. Continue reading