College Readiness Indicator Systems

Ensuring College Readiness

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What is CRIS

Education leaders across the country are confounded by a growing phenomenon: too many students are not college ready when they leave high school. Although indicators exist to identify students at-risk of dropping out of high school, few indicators of students’ college readiness are currently in place, and few districts have linked indicators to practices and policies in ways that would enable action to create meaningful, lasting change.

The College Readiness Indicator System network, also referred to as CRIS, is a joint effort of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR) and the John W. Gardner Center (JGC) at Stanford University, and is generously funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. CRIS launched in August, 2010 and has been working with five sites to help develop, expand and modify current college readiness indicator systems that identify and support young people to be college ready. The five sites participating in the project include Dallas Independent School District, New Visions for Public Schools (New York City), the School District of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh Public Schools and San Jose Unified School District.

CRIS is not a "one-size-fits-all" approach to college readiness but rather an approach based on a menu of indicators from which districts can select those best attuned to their local context. All indicators in the CRIS menu are variables that have a consistent and predictable relationship with college readiness.

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The Goals of CRIS

Apparently this new initiative will build upon existing college readiness indicators to give secondary schools additional tools to determine whether or not their students have what it takes to be college ready. Existing indicators focus on academic skills, while the new CRIS indicators will include some of those “soft skills” that I so often talk about in this forum. In particular, the CRIS indicators look at three levels of college readiness:

  • Academic readiness: Grades, rigorous classes, test scores.
  • Academic tenacity: Includes the student understanding the importance of attendance, of performing well, of self-discipline.
  • College knowledge: Includes understanding the admissions process, actually completing college applications, preparing for entrance exams, meeting with school counselors, and developing good time management and study skills.

The point of the initiative is to help schools develop their own method of identifying weaknesses in their college readiness efforts; then, of course, the idea is that the schools will implement improvements to bump up those efforts, with the utopian goal of every graduate being ready to succeed in college.

Tri-Level Measurement of College Readiness

At the individual level, indicators measure students’ personal progress toward CR. In addition to courses and credits, key individual-level indicators include knowledge about college requirements and students’ goals for learning.

At the setting level, indicators track the resources and opportunities for students provided by a classroom or school. These include teachers’ efforts to push students to high levels of academic performance, college-going culture and resources, and instructional coherence and rigor. Setting-level indicators frequently result from aggregating student-level indicators. These types of setting-level indicators are designated in the CRIS menu as a “trend in” the corresponding individual-level indicator. For example, aggregating AP participation from the individual to the school level can identify differential patterns of CR across schools. Other setting-level indicators such as a consistent attendance policy cannot be measured at an individual level or are simply measured as either present or absent. For example, AP participation rates can be compared to the number of students with AP potential, as determined by such measures as standardized test results or teacher recommendations. This approach helps prevent capable students from missing out on important opportunities for college preparation by ensuring that each school has sufficient AP courses available, as well as a strategy in place for recruiting students into these courses and supports in place to help students succeed.

At the system level, the focus of the indicators is on the district policies and funding infrastructures that impact the availability of CR supports, including guidance counselors, professional development for teachers, and resources to support effective

data generation and use. System-level indicators are crucial in that they signal the extent to which district-level resources are in place to carry out an effective CR agenda. Due to space considerations, however, the remainder of this article focuses on individual- and setting-level indicators.

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