Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

College Readiness: Our Students Deserve No Less

December 14, 2015

As I said in a recent post, if knowledge is power, it’s our responsibility to empower everyone the best we can to help teachers help students do better by sharing what we know and encouraging dialogue in the education space.  That’s why we created the Let’s Talk series.

In this edition of Let’s Talk, Teaching and Learning for College Readiness: The Role of Standards, Feedback and Support we share stories from the field and emerging research on the role of standards, feedback, and instructional tools. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 46.7 million Americans living in poverty.  Careers and economies are changing rapidly.  There are millions of job openings that go unfilled each year.  And global and community challenges are complicated and require resourceful problem solvers generating smart solutions.

Education may not be the only solution to these challenges, but from our own experiences and from what we see each day from educators across the country, education is a game changer.  For some children, education may be their only way out of poverty.  This is the impetus behind college readiness.

College readiness is about recognizing that our students must develop strong skills in math and literacy so they can access and be successful in post-secondary opportunities.  It’s about equipping our students to think critically and creatively—whether they pursue interests that require a technical certification, a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree or a Ph.D.  It’s about making sure students have the grit, perseverance and social-emotional skills to achieve their dreams.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll find:

The Role of Standards

Studies show that students learn best when expectations for their learning are clear, and that aligning policies for instructional guidance around a clear set of learning goals make policy and practice more effective. The Common Core State Standards, designed explicitly to lead students’ college and career readiness, help standardize these goals around English language arts and mathematics consistently across states.

  • What We Know: There is a 90% overlap between the Common Core mathematics standards and the standards for high-achieving international nations. Even states with mathematics standards similar to the Common Core have statistically significantly higher scores on the NAEP than states that do not. However, implementation of the standards has been uneven, and traditional curriculum materials are not yet aligned to the standards.
  • What We Still Need to Know: More research is needed on the conditions for effective implementation of the Common Core Standards. For example, how do we provide additional resources, opportunities, and support that accelerate support for students who need it most?   

The Role of Feedback

Research by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future tells us that teaching is the most important school-related factor in student achievement and that the quality of teaching matters. In 2009, the Foundation launched the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, an initiative to understand how to identify effective teaching as the first step to designing better feedback and support systems. The project, which reached more than 3,000 teachers from seven districts, has broadened the field’s knowledge. We’ve found that effective teacher evaluation systems help teachers improve their practice and inform school and district leaders about how to direct resources for professional development and growth.

  • What We Know: Successful teacher feedback and evaluation programs help retain great teachers and improve their performance and instruction. We’ve seen positive cases of this in Washington, DC, Cincinnati, Chicago, and within the Tennessee Department of Education.
  • What We Still Need to Know: There are gaps in the knowledge base about effective professional development for teachers. We are learning about the elements associated with professional growth, and how districts can apply these to better support teacher learning.

The Role of Instructional Tools for Teachers

The Common Core State Standards generated new expectations for what students should know and be able to do, which created a demand for new tools. Anticipating this demand, the Foundation made a major investment in the development and implementation of teacher-designed tools through the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC). Developed by teachers for teachers, LDC and MDC offer a set of flexible instructional modules, tasks, and formative assessment tools to support instruction tied to college-ready standards.

  • What We Know: Both LDC and MDC have led to statistically significant learning gains for students. However, teachers believe there is still room for improvement and need more help with incorporating the new approaches into daily classroom instruction.
  • What We Still Need to Know: What would it look to give teachers more decision-making power over curriculum and instructional resources—including digital tools—rather than relying on state and district textbook adoptions and purchasing decisions?

Learn more about what happens when these elements come together.  The combination of common, high standards, meaningful feedback, and instructional tools are a powerful trio for teachers and students. 

We hope you’ll sign up to stay up to date with the Let’s Talk series, share with your colleagues, and contribute to the conversation. 

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