The most effective catalyst for school transformation is a strategic disruption.
Our team spent the last four years embedded in a unique, innovative, roller-coaster of an experience called the Math Pipeline Readiness Project (M-PReP). We knew the project would be complicated given the lofty goal to create systemic alignments across three of the largest education systems in the nation: the California Department of Education, California’s Community Colleges, and the California State University. A project scope of over four years almost guaranteed the challenges one would expect such as changes in leadership and competing initiatives. In hindsight, there were plenty of those. What we did not anticipate was the bombardment of major policy changes in college readiness from every sector, schools grappling with student safety initiatives from an increase in gun violence, and a worldwide pandemic closing all campuses. Our team looked ahead at every turn to anticipate the college readiness and success needs of students and the professional learning needs of faculty, counselors, and administrators. A huge thank you to the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation for allowing us to reallocate funding to meet these needs, especially the major shift to support the pivot to remote instruction in the spring of 2020.
In the end, our team learned more about school transformation, K-16 alignment, math education, and remote instruction during M-PReP than is possible to contain in this report. Over the last four years we gained critical insight into the ways that disruption can catalyze positive transformation when coupled with a strategic response versus chaotic reaction.
In preparation for this report, we focused on the most impactful lessons learned and information and resources that could be most useful for teachers, counselors, and administrators working to improve students’ college outcomes through systemic alignment.
The first set of findings and lessons learned are from strategic components of the project:
Dual Enrollment Bridge (DE-Bridge) Programs are a Catalyst for College Math Success and School Transformation
82% (N=1,506) of DE-Bridge students passed a transfer-level college math course with a grade of C- or higher. We have been able to obtain college course-level data for 284 DE-Bridge alumni who graduated high school in 2018, 2019, or 2020 and enrolled in a subsequent math course while in college. Of these alumni, 77% (n = 284) passed a college-level math course with a grade of C- or higher.
DE-Bridge Statistics may open the door to future STEM degrees. Although the students who enrolled in DE-Bridge Statistics were not initially interested in pursuing STEM majors, we found that their academic and career goals often changed by the time they applied to college. Nearly 20% of students who took DE-Bridge Statistics “crossed over” to a STEM major in college. This shows the power of a positive math experience on students’ potential career paths. The math course-taking patterns for students who had previously self-selected as STEM and Non-STEM were similar, as were the pass rates. Further, the Calculus pass rates for both sets of students was similar.
A transformation of the high school math program occurred organically as an unintended consequence of providing DE-Bridge courses. The need to make room for new classes without adding teachers or students to the school led to changes in the overall math curriculum and subsequent better alignment of the curriculum to the state math test and college-level math. This transformation provided the opportunity for students who were not previously on an accelerated math track to experience the challenge of a college-level math course in high school, leading to better college outcomes.
Grading Communities of Practice are Transformative for Teachers and Students
Grading Communities of Practice served as critical tools for catalyzing and implementing transformative educational change that resulted in alignment of high school math programs with state math tests and college math curricula. This new alignment was sparked among high school teachers, high school counselors, and college professors by the CoPs’ use of relationship building and peer collaborations that produced important pedagogical practices. They even inspired teachers to use data to motivate stronger performances from their students, resulting in improved math readiness.
The College Transition Bridge (CT-Bridge) Curriculum
“The most helpful thing I learned was what was expected of me throughout college and how to be able to graduate within four years.”
– M-PReP Student
CT-Bridge prepares students for a successful transition to college, maximizing their likelihood of persistence and completion. CT-Bridge directly prepares students for successful matriculation to their college of choice by educating them about what resources are available and how to utilize them while also helping students understand how to identify and overcome any barriers that could interfere with their progress towards college graduation. 84% of students responding to surveys have used college academic resources, and 59% have used other college resources, contributing to a high rate of persistence, even during the challenges presented by remote learning during COVID.
Additional lessons were learned from external disruptions that forced transformation on the alignment work.
Conflicting Policies and Metrics Make it Impossible for Students to Determine if They Are Prepared for College.
While M-PReP was designed to improve students’ college readiness, this has proven to be an enormously challenging task simply because, in the state of California, there is no single definition of “college ready” aligned across all education sectors. It is critical that this changes immediately so that all students know if they are truly college-ready or if they need further assistance to ensure college success. We ask policymakers and leaders in the CDE, CCC, and CSU systems to develop common definitions and metrics for college readiness so students can determine if they are academically prepared and K-12 teachers can support them on their journey.
Positive Practices from the Online Pivot Should Inform the Future of Distance Learning.
Our general conclusions based on the data we gathered was that the remote pivot and experiences of the academic year 2020-2021 were stressful for most students and teachers due to their social separation from each other and their peers. However, in terms of student learning, approximately three-fourths of students reported that their remote learning experience was generally good. Of the students in grades 6-12 who completed surveys (4,490 in Fall 2020 and 2,510 in Spring 2021), 20% preferred learning math online to in-person and would choose this modality in the future if offered. Our report highlights the technologies students want to keep and their needs for a successful distance learning experience.