Are Students Ready?


The Policy Analysis for California Education hosted a seminar titled “Ready for College? The College Readiness Indicator System” on Friday, May 16, 2014. This seminar addressed the implementation of the College Readiness Indicator System (CRIS) and CRIS Resource Series, which includes information on the six essential elements of CRIS implementation and research-based indicators.  Jorge Ruiz de Velasco and Kara Dukakis of the John W. Gardner Center at Stanford University presented findings from the CRIS initiative piloted in five urban school districts (New York, Dallas, San Jose, Pittsburg and Philadelphia) and also discussed how schools, districts and state agencies can use an indicator system focused on college readiness to fulfill state and federal mandates.

Ruiz kicked off the seminar by describing the challenging environment that schools and districts are working in and how CRIS’s assessment tools and frameworks aim to help them take on this challenge. Ruiz elaborated on how states and districts are tasked with the challenge of complying with state and federal policies and implementing accountability systems, while many are simultaneously tackling the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In order to help support schools and districts with this undertaking, Ruiz explained the need for a deliberate approach that includes an array of research-based indicators; supports that are linked to the indicators; and attention to change at student, school, and district levels. He believed that CRIS provides such an approach, as it allows districts to take on a critical role in creating strong supports and community partners to mobilize a network to increase college readiness and equitable access to deeper learning opportunities.

Dukakis walked through the CRIS initiative, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and its implementation over the past three years in partnership with the University of Chicago and Brown University. She described CRIS as a system of indicators. This system measures dimensions of college readiness (college preparedness, knowledge of college, and academic tenacity); acts as an early warning system as it allows students in need of additional support to be quickly identified; and creates a cycle of inquiry to link the selected indicators with supports and actions at the individual (student), setting (school and classroom), and system level (district and partners). Dukakis then elaborated on the CRIS Framework, which illuminates how these components—three dimensions, three levels, and the cycle of inquiry—are interwoven within the policy context, and have the outcome of college readiness and ideally college completion.

A number of lessons learned from the implementation of the initiative in the five districts were also addressed. One essential element noted by Dukakis was the need for engaged leadership, so that they can champion the effort for college readiness, create buy-in and a common understanding of goals from stakeholders, and create a data driven culture. Building a data infrastructure is also key, as it helps establish the technical architecture, organizational routines throughout the school and district, and timelines and formats that support the needs of stakeholders (e.g. one district developed a platform for students, parents and teachers to track student progress towards graduation and college readiness). Strengthening adult capacity around data was also highlighted. Dukakis mentioned the value of investing in capacity to collect and use data, protect time for collaboration in data teams, creating a shared understanding of what it means to be college ready, and ensuring that teachers, and parents have access to college knowledge. Collecting indicators with supports to promote college readiness was also critical, and was especially useful when school and district staff from diverse roles and locations worked together, or when inquiry groups convened regularly at school and district levels (e.g. one district had regular meetings between Executive Directors of Strategic Feeder Patterns and principals to review school data on academic indicators). Lastly, Dukakis noted the importance of developing partnerships with community institutes and higher education. She described how this allows for greater leveraging of resources outside the K-12 system, the development of partnerships from data sharing, and helps with raising community awareness and coordinating with community-based organizations. 

Finally, the future of the implementation of CRIS was discussed. Dukakis shared a number of challenges that schools and districts will need to learn to navigate. Firstly, tracking and evaluating supports and the cycle of inquiry across levels can be tedious and complicated processes that takes time to do well. Additionally, it can be difficult to create good communication between districts and schools, so that they are aware of each other’s needs, capacity and the accessibility of certain data. However, with these challenges come significant opportunities. Dukakis highlighted how CRIS provides schools and districts implementing the CCSS with a resource that helps track their progress and acts as a supplement, as it provides data on dimensions like college knowledge and academic tenacity. CRIS can also build on state data systems, as it provides data on indicators predicting college readiness and completion.  Furthermore, the seven CORE districts and Local Control and Accountability Plans will be looking into accountability systems and indicators such as school climate and culture and social and emotional learning, which CRIS can provide a useful resource for. As states and districts work to satisfy college readiness mandates and advance equitable access to deeper learning opportunities, it appears CRIS’s assessment tools and frameworks may be useful tools to help raise all boats. 

Patrice Fabel is a research associate with the College and Career Readiness and Success Center.


Photo credit: Flickr

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