Building Pathways to College for All Students

On June 28th, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education held a Webinar for recipients of School Improvement Grants (SIG) titled Postsecondary Bridging: Building Pathways to College for All Students. The Webinar featured two school districts that have worked to ensure that every student is college ready. Both school districts have a large percentage of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and with limited English proficiency.

According to Mike McKenzie, Director of High Schools at Fayette County Public Schools in Kentucky, one of the key districts’ approaches was to remove barriers to participation in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. For example, prerequisite course grades and teacher permission were no longer required for enrollment in most AP classes in English, social studies, science, and math. The district provided funds to pay for students’ AP course exams when necessary. Some of the schools also provided mentoring to prepare students for the rigor of the AP courses. As a result of removing these barriers, schools saw dramatic growth in enrollment in AP courses. For example, AP enrollment in Brian Station High School increased from 75 students in 2006-7 to 514 students in 2011-12. At the district level, the total number of AP students increased from 1,159 students to 2,501 students. The pass rates in these AP courses exceeded the national and state average, indicating that lowering the requirements bar did not stand in the way of students to succeed. In fact, Brian Station High School increased its pass rate from 18% to 50%.

Linda Carillo, Principal at College, Career and Technology Academy in Pharr, Texas, presented on the approach of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District in Texas. The district has placed an emphasis on providing students with college experience through dual enrollment. Schools offer multiple learning opportunities, including free courses that help students think about high-skill, high demand careers to ensure that they take paths that will lead them to professional success. The district has engaged in a systematic transformation, which includes greater opportunities to complete AP courses; the implementation of common instructional frameworks starting in middle school to prepare students to become independent learners; and working with partnering colleges to track students to and through college.

Both school districts work with their schools to send a consistent message to all students that college is attainable. Another key characteristic of the districts’ approach is allowing students to participate in rigorous college-level courses to introduce them to the level of studying required and the degree of responsibility that prepares students to college. Using SIG funds, these districts were able to focus their energy and resources towards ensuring that students left high school college ready.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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