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Community College Leaders Advocate for Stricter Standards of Assessment

Last week, the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees released a joint statement announcing that they are weighing in to advocate for more rigorous standards of assessment in secondary school. In their statement, the AACC and ACCT make the argument that standards in secondary school ought to also be an indicator of college—or career—readiness. In the present reality, many students are graduating from high school or moving on to a two-year school only to find themselves diverted into remedial or developmental education classes.

AACC and ACCT are partnering with Higher Ed for Higher Standards (HEfHS), an organization that defines itself as a “growing coalition of college presidents, trustees, chancellors, and state system leaders committed to the implementation of college- and career-ready standards.”

“I think community colleges probably have the most to gain from this effort because they have such high levels of remediation for young people coming in,” HEfHS organizer Matthew Gandal said in a phone interview.

In their statement, the AACC and the ACCT noted that approximately 50 percent of first-year students entering a two-year college require remedial education. “Although community colleges have time-tested expertise in filling the need for remediating students and preparing them for college, providing remediation to 50 percent or more of entering students is a tremendous strain on resources that can be applied to teaching students at the college level, not to mention delaying students’ progress through higher education and ultimately toward finding gainful employment,” the statement read.

National standardized tests in English and math became de rigeur in 2002, when the No Child Left Behind act was implemented. In 2010, 45 states adopted the Common Core assessments, which represent an effort to make testing more consistent on a state-by-state basis.

The latest and most widely used iteration of Common Core assessments are the PARCC and Smarter Balanced exams. Although the full state-by-state results of the new PARCC and Smarter Balance exams will only be available later this fall, a few states have offered a preview of what might be expected. In California, only 44 percent of students taking the Smarter Balanced exam tested at grade level in English, and 33 percent tested at grade level in math. Notably, those results are worse than the older Common Core aligned exams.

Gandal said that lower results are more consistent with what community colleges experience in terms of the volume of students who require remedial education. “We shouldn’t get discouraged; we shouldn’t roll back the tests or lower the standards in high school. We should keep them just where these bars are set and work to help students learn the material,” Gandal said.

The AACC and ACCT’s joint statement reflected Gandal’s assessment of what the new tests mean in terms of student readiness. “This fall will mark a critical milestone in states’ efforts to raise educational standards: The results of new K-12 student assessments, aligned to college readiness standards, will be released in dozens of states across the country,” the statement read. “For the first time, scores on high school assessments will have a meaningful connection to college and career success.”

However, not all agree that Common Core aligned tests are good indicators of college readiness. Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, cautioned against thinking of standardized tests as “a silver bullet to cure all of what ails us.”

Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, pointed to a recent report from Mathematica Policy Research that looked at the connection between high school assessments in Massachusetts and college performance.

“According to my CPS colleagues with expertise in statistical analysis, the only conclusion that can be reasonably reached from a new Mathematica study comparing the MCAS to PARCC is that none of these tests show college readiness—not MCAS, not PARCC, not SAT, even though SAT has been refined for generations for that purpose,” she wrote in an email.

While tests highlight areas of weakness, Gandal said, it will not in itself help students catch up to speed. Community college partnerships with K-12 schools have a better chance of helping students succeed in secondary school, he said. Tennessee, for example, has had success with its SAILS program, a dual-enrollment program between community colleges and local secondary schools. Ganda said that the AACC and ACCT would work to ensure that community colleges nationwide would create programs specific to the needs of individual states to increase collaboration with the local K-12 systems.

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at [email protected].


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