College and Career Readiness
Members of the Board of Education
David P. Driscoll, Commissioner of Education
March 20, 2007
Update on the Massachusetts National Governors Association High School Redesign Grant and Recommended High School Core Program of Studies
The purpose of this memorandum is to update the Board on the progress we have made implementing initiatives proposed in the National Governors Association (NGA) High School Redesign Grant that we were awarded in the summer of 2005. The grant proposal was developed through a collaborative effort including the Governor's Office, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Board of Higher Education and the President's Office of the University of Massachusetts. The two-year, $2 million grant helps to support our collective work to increase our state's high school graduation rate and the college-and career-readiness rates of our high school graduates.
A key initiative of the grant featured in this memo is the development of a recommended high school core program of studies, called MassCore. MassCore is intended to help graduates arrive at college or the workplace prepared to succeed by suggesting a comprehensive set of courses, subject area credits, and other learning opportunities students should complete before graduating from high school. The program of studies will serve as a vehicle through which students master the learning standards contained in the Commonwealth's Curriculum Frameworks. It is intended to be a recommendation rather than a requirement for graduation. Moreover, it acknowledges that school districts may establish additional graduation requirements.
The recommended program of studies also would fill one criterion for the Certificate of Mastery, under the regulations the Board adopted in October 2006. One of the eligibility criteria in section 31.03 of the revised regulations is that students "shall complete a high school curriculum designed to prepare students for college and career readiness, consistent with any standards established by the Board of Education." I would like the Board to consider the proposed high school core program of studies as the minimum set of courses and credits required for a student to earn the Certificate of Mastery.
After an initial discussion about the proposed program at this month's Board meeting, I intend to disseminate the recommended program of studies for public comment later this month, make further refinements based upon the comments, and return it to the Board in May or June for approval.
High School Core Program of Studies (MassCore)
In spring 2006, Chancellor Patricia Plummer and Deputy Commissioner Jeffrey Nellhaus convened an advisory committee to recommend a program of studies that most, if not all, students would take in high school. The committee comprised representatives from public and private higher education including college admissions officials, business and industry representatives, middle and high school administrators, high school guidance counselors and students. See Attachment 1 for a listing of committee members.
Over the course of six months, the committee examined high school graduation requirements from other states as well as recommended programs of study including those from the Southern Regional Education Board's High Schools That Work and the United States Department of Education's State Scholars Initiatives. In addition, committee members conferred with Mike Cohen, the President of Achieve, Inc., on the relationship of taking a rigorous high school curriculum and success in postsecondary education and a career. Mr. Cohen shared findings from a study released in May 2006 by ACT that the skills needed for college and careers are comparable.
The program of studies recommendations made by the committee can be found in Attachment 2. Included in the recommendations are four credits of English and math, three credits of lab-based science, three credits of history and social science, and two credits of the same foreign language. The program of studies includes a list of additional learning opportunities that students should take in high school to enhance their college and career readiness. Students will be encouraged to take as many of the following as possible: Advanced Placement (AP), dual enrollment, a capstone or senior project, an online course for high school or college credit, and service or work-based learning.
The development of the recommended program of studies was also informed by regional focus groups made up of high school and college administrators and teachers and meetings with the math and science state advisory committees. The input received in these public discussions was very favorable. Further, a survey was sent to all high schools in the state designed to determine the percentage of students in the Class of 2006 that completed the recommended program of studies (Attachment 3). The survey was completed by 79 (23%) high schools and indicates that about seventy percent of the graduates in the Class of 2006 completed the high school program of studies proposed here. In urban high schools responding to the survey (15), approximately 45% of the graduates completed the proposed program.
In addition, a state college/university admissions committee convened by the Board of Higher Education (BHE) reviewed the proposed program of studies. It was noted that the proposed MassCore program of studies is more rigorous than the current requirements for admission into a public four-year state college or the University of Massachusetts. The current admissions standards require that students complete three credits of math (algebra I and II, geometry/trigonometry) versus four in MassCore. The BHE standards also require three years of science including two with laboratory work contrasted with three lab-based sciences in MassCore and two credits in social studies versus three credits in the proposed program of studies.
In order to support the implementation of the recommended High School Core Program of Studies, Department staff in collaboration with local high school teachers and higher education faculty will develop model course syllabi that are aligned with the Commonwealth's Curriculum Frameworks and with the expectations of first year college courses. Over the next several months, the Department in collaboration with the Board of Higher Education and the University of Massachusetts will offer a series of meetings to help define "what is college and career ready" including the characteristics of those courses that prepare students for success in both college and a career.
In the remainder of this memo are brief updates on three additional NGA grant initiatives: (1) the development of a voluntary Algebra II assessment; (2) a public awareness campaign for college and career readiness targeted to low-income and potential first-generation college students; and (3) a school-to-college database.
- Algebra II Assessment
Massachusetts has entered into a consortium with eight other states to develop an Algebra II assessment. The consortium members along with Achieve reached agreement on the test standards in 2006 and the Ohio Department of Elementary and Secondary Education took the lead to develop and release a Request for Proposals (RFP). In response to the RFP, three proposals were received. It is expected that the test developer will be awarded a contract in the next few weeks.
In Massachusetts, the assessment will be optional for schools to use as a diagnostic tool to determine if students have mastered Algebra II standards, to measure student readiness for college level math and to provide information to strengthen instruction. In addition to completing the MassCore program of studies described earlier, students would be required to earn a passing score on the Algebra II assessment as an additional condition for receiving a Certificate of Mastery. The test is expected to be available for administration in 2008.
Public Awareness Campaign For College And Career Readiness
In order to encourage low-income students and students from other underrepresented groups to prepare for and succeed in college, we have developed an aggressive information campaign targeted to at-risk students. On January 1, 2007, we officially launched the "Think Again" advertising campaign, a joint effort with the Board of Higher Education. This multi-media campaign includes paid advertising statewide on radio, TV, in cinemas and on buses. We have also sent posters and stacks of postcards featuring our signature image to every high school in the state.
The advertisements feature a high school age student on a partially lit street, looking off into the distance. The caption reads "Think college isn't for you? Think again." All of the advertisements and collateral material direct individuals to a website. This informational website provided resources, advice and helpful tips to students on what they need to do to prepare for college, apply for scholarships and financial aid, and find the college or university that is right for them. Since January 1, 2007, nearly 10,000 individuals have visited the site.
We are now working to secure additional state and/or private funding and to transform the website into a College and Career Readiness web portal. Once fully operational, this portal will allow students to apply to college online, send their transcripts electronically, research careers and find the postsecondary institutions that match their interests and aspirations.
School To College Database
In order to develop the infrastructure to enable the Department's Student Information Management System (SIMS) to communicate with the Board of Higher Education's Higher Education data system (HEIRS) a vendor was hired in spring 2006 to develop a school to college database. The database will be used as a vital tool for longitudinal studies to answer a wide range of policy questions that cannot be addressed at present. The database includes graduates from the classes of 2003-2005 who attended a state college or university. This spring the class of 2006 will be added to the database. The Board of Education received a $150,000 grant from the Nellie Mae Foundation to develop school to college reports for each high school using information from the database. This will enable district and high school leaders to assess school performance in terms of success in college and enable college leaders to assess effectiveness in helping students attain a college degree.
I look forward to discussing these initiatives with the Board at our March meeting. It is important to note that while the NGA grant ends later this year, many grant related activities will continue in the foreseeable future.