It’s Not Just College Admission, it’s about Persistence

  • High School
Mary Moser

What if I said that increasing high school graduation rates was setting the bar too low?

Prior to attending AVID National Conference, I wouldn’t have questioned a school setting a goal of everyone walking across that high school graduation stage or everyone being accepted into college.  Now, I think that falls short, after attending a presentation from Dr. Dennis Johnston.

Our goal should be focused on college graduation rate, which means we will be involved in the work of college persistence.  Yes, I realize, this data could be harder or costlier to assess* than what we assess and track in our schools at the moment.  However, I believe that not all things need hard and fast data, if that’s not where your budget or capability lies at this moment.  We can learn about the characteristics of college students who persist successfully, high school students who have real options available to them in their post HS choices, high school students who are most likely to persist into the second year of college. That is what we can build our work around supporting.

If we say we want all students to graduate high school, we have already dropped our expectations of students compared to if we say we want all students to be able to graduate college.

Opportunity Gaps

My school does a pretty decent job of narrowing the opportunity gaps seen within schools.  We provide free transportation after school when staying for activities.  We provide a snack, albeit not a full dinner, for students staying in our tutoring program on top of the transportation.  Based on our school culture and our work with AVID, we have worked over the last few years to make sure that our challenging courses aren’t tracked nor are they pre-requisites/teacher recommendation only.

But, what I don’t think we have done is reflect on the following: why do our students say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a course like AP English?  Is there an opportunity that we are failing provide simply because of how that student perceives the course or how we sell/don’t sell it to our students?  What implicit biases might we be exhibiting when talking to our students? If a student really wants to take a challenging course like, Geometry instead of Algebra 1, even though their MAP score says they aren’t ready and their middle school teacher didn’t recommend Geometry, are we going to automatically say no to them? That is the whole school reflective work that I want to work on next.

Self-Reflection and PLC Reflection Work

Part of what Johnston spoke about dovetailed nicely with the work that I, and my school, have done around Cultural Responsive Classroom Management work with the WEA.  We have to be considerate about how we manifest expectation gaps within our instruction.  It’s hard work because it asks us to tap into a true portrait of our work and our speech.  That’s why I would leave it for self-work or PLC or self-chosen colleague group, but it’s entirely dependent on your comfort level with reflection and those peers around you.

Begin with reflecting on: how do I afford students the opportunity to fail and how do I ask the same thinking of all my students?  Yes, have scaffolds, have supports.  But, don’t put so many scaffolds and supports in place that you never give students the chance to fail and persist and succeed.  Don’t set them up for unrealistic expectations.  But, do set them up for high expectations that might not happen the first go around. That second question is where the hard work will probably occur.  Here’s a clear example of setting different expectations in a small way.  Whole group discussion.  You ask your Pacific Islander student, “Who said ‘quote’? You turn to your white student and ask, “Why do you think that he said ‘quote’?”  In reflecting, you might see that you consistently change that level of question based on the race/ethnicity of your students; it wasn’t just a random occurrence.

Some Predictors of Persistence

If you’re going to take an AP course then emphasize sitting for the exam.  Even if the score isn’t high enough to receive college credit (which can be disappointing), taking the exam is just as important in predicting college completion as a high score.  If you know that your students will struggle with the exam, explicitly help your students build those skills and carve out time to have meaningful reflection about their feelings before, during and after the test.

Sounds obvious, but…the student has to want to go to college.

Students have to have had opportunities to fail and built understanding about how they moved through that failure.

Here’s a very specific one.  If the student has met 4 year college entrance requirements, taken an AP course, taken an AP exam and filled out the FAFSA, they will have an 85% success rate to persist into the second year of college.  If a student wants to go college but has done 0-1 one of the previously mentioned (met 4 year college entrance requirements, taken an AP exam, taken and AP course, filled out the FAFSA) their enrollment and persistence into the second year drops to around 66%.

*The conference presenter did mention Student Tracker, which can track students into college.  It does come at a cost.

  • College and Career Readiness
  • Communications
  • Professional Development
  • Teacher Leadership
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