The Second to Last Benchmark in Summit Education Initiative (SEI) Cradle to Career Pipeline is College and Career Readiness.
- All students graduate from high school with a plan to be employed, enrolled or enlisted.
- All students who plan to attend college after high school will complete a FAFSA.
- Increase the proportion of students who earn a “college ready” score on college placement tests.
The group’s goal is for every student leaving high school to have a plan to become enrolled in college, enlisted in public service, or employed in a job that leads to a career.
For students going into the college track, there are two more indicators of success they SEI is looking to improve in Summit County. These are completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and having 21 or higher composite score on the ACT.
The Ready High School Network works on these measures. The group was started by Akron Public Schools and now managed by SEI.
The network is comprised entirely of education practitioners, such as teachers, guidance counselors and principals, from 22 high schools in Summit County. These include public high schools, specialty schools and private schools. SEI is currently working on ways to involve other community members in the group.
Coming Together to Learn from Each Other
The Ready High School Network meets throughout the year to discuss their districts’ successes and failures in improving these measures. The goal is for districts to experiment and learn from each other to improve college and career readiness in Summit County. They held their most recent meeting November 19.
The meetings allow practitioners to have time away from hectic classrooms for so they can look at their current results in the goal areas, their progress since their last meeting, and where they want to be in the future. Each group then decides on a specific goal to work on before the next meeting. This information was shared with SEI, so SEI can have a county-wide view of their progress.
After the November meeting, representatives from the schools broke into three groups that overlapped with the success indicators. They shared what their schools had done to try to improve these areas and how the programs had gone.
Each school also received a $500 mini-grant from the Lumina Foundation to achieve these goals.
Executive Director-Summit Education Initiative
The 3Es: Enrollment, Enlistment and Employment
One of SEI’s goals is to have all students leaving high school with a plan, whether that is enrolling in higher education, being employed in a career track or enlisting in public service.
A key problem is that it can sometimes can be hard to track the persistence of former students in their plans, Wimer said. Districts want to know whether their students are successful.
“Even if the kids are out of high school, they still care about them, especially the councilors, because they have this relationship,” he said.
The easiest measure to track is enrollment, Wimer said. Many high schools have their own software to track their students as they go through the college process.
All members of the Ready High School Network also receive access to the National Student Clearinghouse, a service that tracks the college attendance of students at 94 percent of secondary education institutions for eight years after they graduate from high school.
This access, provided by a grant from the Sisler McFawn Foundation, makes it easy for districts to track student that enroll. But the other measures are more difficult to determine, a concern teachers shared at the meeting.
“We’re able to track kids that actually show up on campus, but you have the other 29, 30 percent of high school graduates in Summit County,” Wimer said. “Where do they go?”
The next easiest measure to get is military enlistment, but enlistment in other social service is difficult to track.
“When we say enlistment, it could be enlistment in any kind of public service,” he said. “So, it could be a person who is going to spend a year abroad with their church, let’s say, and go to El Salvador or some place, but there’s no central way to track that.”
The most difficult measure to track is employment in a job that will lead to a career. They are especially interested in seeing whether students enrolled in career-prep programs entered the career they trained for during school. Wimer said the state is currently working on ways to track and measure these programs.
Many high schools represented in the group meeting shared that they worked on this measure by conducting exit interviews with students. However, they shared the frustration that it was hard to track whether the graduates persisted in these plans.
3165: Preparing for a College Career with a Successful Transition to High School
Research has shown 21 is the magic number when it comes to the ACT. When kids receive a 21 or higher on the test, they are more likely to persist throughout their college career then those with a lower score, Wimer said.
SEI has also determined that students’ success during their first year of high school can indicate whether they will hit this goal. This is how they came up with 3165. Students who get a 3.1 GPA and are on track to compete 6.5 credits by the end of their first year of high school are most likely to get a 21 or higher on the ACT.
To help students achieve 3165, many districts are working to create smooth transitions between middle school and high school.
North High School now uses a team approach to make sure students have teachers working in teams to monitor students’ progress and difficulties, Assistant Principal Shawn Perry said.
“One of the things that was an issue was having multiple math teachers and multiple English teachers,” Perry said. “Now we only have one for each subject area and our students rotate, so we kind of maintain that middle school model but still blend it in with the expectations for high school. One thing we found is it helps in a lot of different area.”
Akron’s National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School has its own challenges. All of their 9th graders are new to high school and 25 percent of them are new to the STEM learning model. These STEM new students arrive a week early to learn about social-emotional skills to help them achieve in schools, Guidance Counselor Christine Howard said.
“We focus on what are called frontier habits at STEM,” Howard said. “There’s self-directedness, there’s grit, there’s collaboration, there’s creative thinking. So, what our 9th grade team has decided to do is they have picked four of their frontier habits and they focused on one each 9 weeks.”
This helps the transition for both new STEM students and the STEM middle schoolers.
Other schools discussed using older students to mentor freshman early on and allowing time for students to meet with teachers to help them with areas they are struggling in.
ACT and FAFSA: Getting in and Getting to College
While SEI understands college is not the right choice for all students, they want to make sure the students who do not go to colleges do so by choice.
Senior Research Associate
“We want kids to be making choices rather than having consequences,” Mathew Deevers, senior research associate at SEI, said. “We want make sure when a kid chooses not to go to college, it’s because she or he is following another pathway that will lead to a living wage because that’s what they chose, not ‘I couldn’t get into college’ or ‘I didn’t think I could afford it.’”
In 2015, 45 percent of high school students in Summit County were considered college-ready. SEI wants to raise that number to 50 percent by 2020.
One aspect of college readiness is ACT scores. Groups met to discuss programs that worked for them to improve their scores, such as ZAPS. They also talked about ways to encourage students to take the tests earlier, so they can work for a higher score.
Another important aspect of college readiness is not so much about whether a student can get into a school, but instead about whether a student can pay for it.
Wimer said every summer, there is a period where some students who enroll in college receive their first tuition bill, realize they cannot afford it and never attend school. This is called summer melt.
“They get the bill and they’re like ‘How am I going to do this?’” Wimer said. “The reality is they can’t do it and their families can’t do it. But had they completed the FAFSA, they would have seen a way forward.”
Completing the FAFSA opens up doors to many grants, loans and scholarships, which might make school an option for students who could not afford it on their own.
“Kids that come from poverty circumstances, they can’t see a way forward to higher education because it’s too expensive in their minds and they don’t understand there’s money available if they just complete the FAFSA,” he said. “If you don’t do the FAFSA, no doors open to you.”
SEI will be looking at the percentage of FAFSA completions by high schools every two weeks and sharing with the schools which students have still not completed the form.
“This way the councilors and principals can reach out to the students and say ‘Hey, I know you’re planning to go to the University of Akron, but you haven’t completed FAFSA yet,’” Wimer said. “’You need to complete FAFSA because there might be money there for you.’”
However, Wimer said the biggest issue is not getting the students to fill out the forms, but rather getting parents to help them. The FAFSA is a complicated application that requires information such as tax forms and household income. The process will be simplified next year, but for now, the form is the same.
“There are a lot of boundaries, especially for kids that live in poverty circumstances and who are the ones who can benefit the most from it,” Wimer said.
However, some community partners are working to help.
“There are professional organizations in the city that actually dedicate time to help families,” he said. “In fact, they do tax and FAFSA at the same time so families can come in and have their taxes done and turn around and do the FAFSA in the same meeting.”
Yvonne Culver, M.A., NBCPT-C
Valuable Discussions, Valuable Data
The attendees at the most recent Ready High School Network Meeting had a lot of positive things to say about the resources they receive.
These meetings help her district create concrete goals to help students, Yvonne Culver, counselor in charge of college readiness for Akron Public Schools, said.
“The research is incredible, like the 3165,” Culver said. “We would have never come up with ‘This is what a successful 9th grader looks like’ if we didn’t have the benefit of their research. Everyone knows they want to have their students enroll in college, but when you’re shooting for that target, it gives you a definite bullseye.”
Associate Principal for Student Services
Archbishop Hoban High School, a private Catholic school, joined the network this year. While there may be some differences between Hoban and other schools, the school can still benefit from the services the group provides, Kevin Hillary, Hoban associate principal for student services said.
“I think we all have many of the same challenges and the ideas that they’re trying,” Hillary said. “It’s good to find out what those are and see which are successful and how we’ve adapted them and we can share the same thing with them. Some things you think you may be able to apply and some things don’t work with your setting.”
The group will be meeting again in February to share their progress and create new goals.
Keep reading for a future article that looks at the final SEI’s final benchmark in the Cradle to Career Pipeline: College and Career Persistence.
For more information on SEI go to: seisummit.org