Community colleges help train teachers

Community colleges are helping train a new generation of K-12 teachers, reports Community College Week.

Samuel Simpson, 54, a high school math teacher at All City High School in inner-city Rochester, is one of the first fellows of the Community Center for Teaching Excellence (CCTE), which is based at Monroe Community College (New York). “My efforts in doing the kinds of best practices that many people in the education field talk about doing — looking at data, using it to inform instruction, and teaching differently and smarter — have brought significant results,” Simpson said.

Community college educators, university professors, high school teachers and the Center for Governmental Research are collaborating on “high-impact teaching strategies” through CCTE, reports Community College Week.

 A number of fellows incorporated collaborative learning techniques in their classes, such as peer teaching, paired writing and group note-taking, to increase student engagement. A few teachers experimented with integrating 21st-century technology tools into their lessons, such as creating digital versions of their notes with embedded audio and having students contribute to blogs.

MCC Assistant Professor Maria Brandt and a colleague are working with a teacher at Rush-Henrietta Senior High School to create common writing assignments and assessments.

 Focused on improving students’ abilities to read critically and communicate coherently and accurately, they had students write summaries of selected authors’ work and evaluate their own writing at the beginning and middle of the fall semester.

“Through the course of the semester, students in my English 101 class have improved in two areas: their ability to summarize a text and their sense of the importance of reading closely, that you cannot formulate an accurate and responsible argument without understanding the texts involved,” Brandt said. “The students are much more aware now that they need to listen first or read well to grow as readers and writers.”

“Our goal is to better understand the gap between how high school students are performing on average and how first-year college students are performing on average and help them have higher success levels,” Brandt said.

Many schools need science, technology and math teachers.  Community College Week looks at STEM programs at Cerritos College (California) and Rio Salado (Arizona), which belong to the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP).

Ten Maryland community colleges now offer a fully transferrable associate of arts in teaching degree in secondary math, writes Colleen Eisenbeiser, director of the TEACH Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. Nine offer secondary chemistry and eight offer physics.

Two Maryland community colleges partner with their local school systems “to recruit, prepare, place, and instruct career changers in hard to fill secondary content areas, including math, chemistry, physics, and technical education.” Anne Arundel has helped a variety of career changers become certified teachers, including a computer software engineer, a health information analyst lawyer, a nurse, researchers from a lab that studies the habits of migratory birds and the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a biologist who worked at the National Aquarium and National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

It’s the learning, stupid

How did Valencia College in Orlando, Florida win the Aspen Prize for community college excellence? President Sandy Shugart has six big ideas about what community colleges should to enable learning, writes Fawn Johnson.

1) Anyone can learn anything under the right conditions.
2) Start right.
3) Connection and direction.
4) The college is how the students experience us, not how we experience them.
5) The purpose of assessment is to improve learning.
6) Collaboration.

Valencia’s graduation rate is nearly three times the average at large urban community colleges.  Other colleges are looking for Valencia’s “secret sauce.”

Many community colleges enroll huge numbers of students, collect the tuition and then see most of them drop out.

Valencia sacrifices its enrollment numbers (and the accompanying dollars) by turning students away who fail to register before the first day of a class. Research shows that students who register late are more likely to drop out, so Shugart says it makes sense to head those students off.

The college integrates advising with teaching. “Faculty members are expected to participate in plotting their students’ graduation paths, but each program also has an embedded full-time career adviser to track students’ progress,” Johnson writes.

Faculty members test teaching ideas in a three-year “learning academy.”  Adjuncts are paid more if they participate in developing their teaching skills.

Valencia invests most heavily in improving 15 to 20 “gateway courses” that make up 40 percent of the curriculum for first-year students.

Planning is required. “When I was in college, the idea was that your freshman and sophomore years was an exploratory time. Totally gone. It is not exploratory,” said Joyce Romano, Valencia’s vice president for student services. “Decide when you’re in the womb what you want to do.”

All students are expected to map out a graduation plan in their first semester. They must “connect” with faculty members, career advisers, tutors, and student-services staffers. Tutors—usually students themselves—know the professors personally and often sit in on classes to seek out students who might feel shy about asking for help. Tutoring centers are located in central campus areas, and they are packed.

Valencia constantly analyzes student-achievement data, but instructors are judged on their teaching, not their students’ test scores.

Early assessment: Does it work?

California’s Early Assessment Program tests 11th graders’ college readiness, giving them time to improve senior year to avoid remedial classes. It sounds like a great idea.  But does it work? That’s hard to say, writes Education Week.

EAP adds optional questions to the state exam 11th graders have to take anyhow. Those who do well can go straight to college-level classes at 48 community colleges and all California State University campuses. For the unready, EAP has designed catch-up courses and training for teachers. K-12 teachers worked with CSU professors to define college-level mastery.

Two groups of states are collaborating to design new tests for the Common Core standards, which are supposed to measure college and career readiness.

Leaders of those efforts cite the EAP as a model as they endeavor to fold elements of it into work they hope will ultimately make college remediation unnecessary: aligning K-12 study and tests to college expectations, creating a feedback loop to inform learning, and providing supports to students and teachers.

Since EAP’s debut in 2004, the proportion of students who test as college-ready in English and math has risen slowly.  However, “the vast majority still fall short of the mark,” Education Week notes.

There are early signs that it reduces the need for college remediation: A 2009 study by Michal Kurlaender, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, found that students at one California State University campus who had taken the EAP—regardless of their scores—were 4 percentage points to 6 percentage points less likely to require remediation than those who hadn’t. The test likely prompts students to “buckle down” harder in 12th grade, Ms. Kurlaender said in an interview.

CSU, which trains most of the state’s teachers, has “embedded the EAP’s ideas into preservice teacher education,” notes Ed Week.  High school English and math teachers can take EAP courses online or in person.

But not all high schools offer seniors the prep classes designed by EAP.

CSU studies show that schools that fully implement the Expository Reading and Writing Course, which was designed to bolster instruction for students who fall short of the EAP’s English-readiness mark, improve on the state’s 11th grade test twice as fast as schools that don’t, and students who take it have a better chance of passing the university system’s own placement tests.

In CSU surveys, teachers rave about the course for its power to spark top-notch work from both students and teachers. Of California’s 1,400 public high schools, 376 have fully implemented the course; others use some of its modules.

Nonetheless, CSU remediation rates remain very high considering that students are supposed to come from the top third of high school graduates. Most first-year students had a B average in high school; all took a college-prep sequence of courses.   Yet 49 percent must take remedial English, and 38 percent must take remedial math.

Many students don’t understand that they’ve failed EAP, much less what to do about it, warns William G. Tierney, a USC education professor.  In a small study, 40 percent of students didn’t remember taking the EAP and more than 75 percent who failed did nothing to catch up in 12th grade.

Others say the EAP’s warning doesn’t come soon enough.

By the time students get the news that they are not college-ready—when they’re rising seniors—it’s often too late to rearrange their class schedules. Many students, also, are too far short of the mark to catch up in just one year.

Research shows that students who test below “proficient” in fourth grade have only a 3 percent chance of testing as college ready in 11th grade. CSU is looking for ways to create much earlier early-warning indicators.

Community colleges began accepting EAP results in place of their own placement tests in 2008, though less than half of the state’s colleges participate.

In an attempt to “mirror what the CSU is expecting” of transfer students, the community colleges are using the same EAP cutoff score that the university system uses, said Sonia Ortiz-Mercado, the community college system’s dean for matriculation and early assessment. Most high school students don’t think they need to prepare well for community college, she said, so using the same readiness score as the university system sends “a stronger signal that they do.”

The community college system may fine-tune its use of EAP scores to distinguish between students at different remedial levels.