A GPS for College and Career Readiness

GPSHiking a nature trail is a great experience for exercise and enjoyment. When hiking familiar trails, we know the route  and we can just enjoy the experience and not have to worry about getting lost or have need for a map. This comfortable experience of hiking can be compared to the conditions in many schools, where a culture of focusing on preparing students for the next grade level, hopefully moving on to college, is familiar territory for educators and we continue to exercise and enjoy the experience. However, when we introduce college AND career readiness to the equation, our comfortable hike takes on a very different experience and we uncomfortably find ourselves in uncharted territory. The area around us is different and we’re unsure of our destination. We are in desperate need of a map.

Finding our way in the world has become much easier and we have added a new term to our navigation vocabulary — GPS (Global Positioning System). Maps and compasses are old technology and today we have the added benefit of GPS. A GPS has the convenience of a well marked map, often in electronic form on a smart phone. But, it also has the exact positioning of where we are in relation to the trail, our environment and can automatically map out a route for us to find our destination. This convenient technology has made it much easier to find our way in a new neighborhood, or a new trail.

In schools, as we negotiate the new terrain of college AND career readiness, leaders often wish we had a similar GPS that would give us greater detail about the unfamiliar terrain, show us exactly where we are and automatically map our route to the destination. We are no where near a smartphone app that would give us a very clear indication of how to improve schools, but recently developed tools give us many of the elements of a GPS to map our way towards this important student goal of college and career readiness.

The Career Readiness Institute (CRI) hosted by the Successful Practices Network (SPN) has created a Career Readiness Self-Assessment. Building upon over a decade of cataloging the best practices in America’s most rapidly improving schools, SPN has developed a series of checklists which serve as the equivalent of a GPS to guide schools toward its destination of college and career readiness. This self-assessment includes a series of checklists which enable schools to more precisely identify where their school community is in relationship to this changing terrain. Since schools have a very comfortable experience in mapping their programs towards college readiness, these checklists primarily focus on career readiness. However, many aspects of school relate to both college and career readiness as partially overlapping goals and several checklists relate to both.

The checklists include school characteristics in three areas. First, Results encourages leadership teams to reflect on their overall student learning results and look beyond the minimum measures of state academic assessments. The checklists encourage schools to examine achievement in stretching students beyond the minimum and also including measures on student performances and developing Life/Career Abilities or “soft skills.” The second area of checklists focus on school Culture. Often the existing culture of the school either enables or hinders a school improvement or change initiative. Examining these current behaviors related to school culture gives leadership teams a more precise identification of aspects of culture that need to be changed over time. Finally, the third area of checklists focuses on Practices — those unique instructional planning, instruction and student support services that are necessary to develop career readiness.

The Career Readiness Self-Assessment is a powerful new resource to guide schools in their planning. You can learn more about the self-assessment by going to the Career Readiness Institute website or viewing this podcast overview .  School leaders and staff should not feel overwhelmed when hiking through new territory of college and career readiness.  There are tools and experience, equivalent of a GPS, that can guide us to this destination.

Using Data to Overcome Reading Obstacles in Career Readiness

Reading is a subject and skill set taught throughout lexile-levelthe elementary years. However, reading, per se, is seldom taught at the secondary level. Many of us would agree that as textbooks and other assigned reading materials grow in terms of difficulty, vocabulary, and structure, it is critical that we collectively help our secondary students continue to refine their reading skills and strategies, as a mechanism to help prepare them for college and career success.

But, how do we go about doing that when we know that students read on such varied levels of reading proficiency? The best starting place is to determine the level at which each individual student is reading. The use of Lexile measures can pinpoint with great accuracy and individual student’s reading level. These data can then be used to guide the development and implementation of appropriate reading instruction in order to capitalize on the reading strengths and deficiencies possessed by students across a class or course. Engaging in these types of student reading assessments are growing in importance as the Common Core State Standards are requiring students to be able to read at higher, more advanced levels.

Once these reading levels have been determined, educators can adjust reading materials to correspond both to current reading levels and the desired goals as outlined by the Common Core State Standards. Then, both pre-reading and post-reading comprehension strategies can be incorporated in order to increase reading comprehension of more advanced reading passages.

In this corresponding chapter in the handbook, we provide information, resulting from research conducted by MetaMetrics, regarding the desired reading levels (measured in Lexiles), in addition to those that are suggested by the authors of the Common Core State Standards. For more information about teaching to differential reading levels, and to read the entire chapter titled, How Can You Teach Students Who Read At Different Levels?.


Remember That Every Child Learns Differently…

In an earlier blog, we discussed the use of student data to help inform decisions about revising group-level instruction. The process of interpreting assessment data to guide individual student interventions isstudents different faces very similar to the process for revising group-level instruction, beginning with and then targeting content or skill areas where students are noticeably deficient. Similar cautions are important here. For example, educators should make sure that they rely on multiple measures of student proficiencies and capabilities. It is important to look at the results of standardized assessments, as well as classroom assessments.

This being said, educators must be careful to avoid the over-interpretation of standardized test results, especially when using those data to inform individual student interventions.  For example, on a subtest with five items, a student may answer three of the items correctly and perhaps be careless in responding on one item and omit another one. This student’s “proficiency” on that content would be reported as 60%, which most educators would initially interpret as poor understanding or mastery. Of course, we likely do not know why one item was missed (a careless mistake or not?) and the other omitted (did the student inadvertently skip the item or not understand the material at all?). Therefore, it is likely more appropriate to interpret raw scores, as opposed to any other standardized score, such as percentile ranks or even percentages of items answered correctly. Educators should practice the same cautions when interpreting the results of localized classroom assessments.

Utilizing student data for purposes of truly informing the wide variety of decisions that educators are charged with making is a practice that should be a routine part of educator’s “toolbox”. The consequences of making inaccurate decisions about students are simply too grave; they cannot and should not be taken lightly. For more information about using data to help guide the design of individual student interventions, and to read the entire chapter titled, Once You Know Who’s Not Learning, How Can You Help Individual Students?.

Get to Know Your Students Using Data

Teaching has been, and always will be, a challenging profession. One of
the biggest challenges for many teachers is trying to find ways to connect and relate to the students that they see every day. As a teacher, one of the best ways to do this is to engage in a variety of strategies for getting to know your students better. When teachers engage in a process of truly getting toUncertain students. know their students, the benefits can be countless and the impact, far-reaching. Of course, simply gathering information on students is meaningful, but the true impact is felt when teachers take student information and integrate it into various aspects of their instruction.

This chapter of the Career Readiness Data Handbook discusses strategies and sources of student information that include demographics, interest surveys, instruments that measure career interests, and assessments of learning styles and multiple intelligences. Integrating this kind of student information into the instructional process can provide many benefits for teachers. Knowledge of student demographics and interests can provide teachers the opportunity to incorporate examples or assignments into coursework that tend to be more interesting to students, thus engaging them deeper in the instructional process. Knowledge of students’ career interests may give teachers the opportunity to extend knowledge, skills, and dispositions in ways that can demonstrate the value of what students may be learning in class, especially in terms of how it might apply to future careers. Finally, taking time to learn how each student learns best gives teachers opportunities to customize lessons and assignments, and also possibly group students for a collaborative work, based on similar learning styles.

We strongly urge you to invest some time in getting to know your students on a deeper level. Doing so will likely benefit both them and you. Please share your thoughts on using data for getting to know your students. For more information and to read the entire chapter titled How well do you really know your students?.