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On January 29th, our little composition and rhetoric group will be having a full-day retreat.  It will be our first official retreat and it couldn’t come at a better time.

With several new courses on the books, a program in the final stages of approval, and a load of ideas about where we go from here, it’s going to be good to be able to spend some sustained time hammering out our plans.  I also thinks it’s a good time to formalize some of the principles that shape both our programmatic identity and our pedagogical practices.  From my perspective, this is our chance to discuss what we want to be as a distinct intellectual and teaching community as well as how we want to be as a community.

So, here’s to a spectacular spring 2010 semester!

Last night I wrote that there seemed to be a shift in yesterday’s meeting away from cut scores and to a discussion of what our writing work group thought more important.  Well, today Ira Blake, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs, has been waving the “cut score” banner again this morning.  She said that our work groups need to come up with cut scores where we should begin.  

I just asked Ira Blake for a very clear statement about what are task was.  I asked, “so, let me get this straight, the task of our work group is to come up with cut scores.”  Her response, “yes.”  Yes, she did say a lot about us being experts and our imput important and that it was important that we had discussions about what is college ready, but in the end, the task is a cut score.  It will be interesting to see what will happen if our writing work group does not/refuses to come up with a cut score.

It’s been an interesting day here in Harrisburg as day one of PaSSHE’s College Ready and Placement Work Group comes to a close.  Interesting because there has been a bit of a shift over the course of the day when it seemed like the sole purpose of this work group was going to be to choose one of the major standardized placement exams–COMPASS, ACCUPLACER, or ASSET (notice all of them are in all-caps)–as the standard for the whole State System.  By the day’s end that imperative was less clear.

The day alternated between whole group sessions led by Vice Chancellor Jim Moran and break out sessions: math, writing, and reading.  The general sessions were not super formal.  Rather, they consisted of Moran making some preliminary comments and report-backs/questions from the break out groups.  Initally Moran say that by the end of our two-days here in Harrisburg, he wanted us to come up with “baseline cut-scores” for each of the areas.  In other words, we were supposed to come up with the scores that would determine when a student would be forced into “remedial” courses.  The primary target was to “identify a standard across the system for college comp and intro to math.  Moran said that this is part of a larger effort–a “two-pronged effort”–to standardize the State’s definition of “college ready” and to create a common set of criteria for college placement.  The other prong is to standardize the entire State’s high school curriculum.  Moran said that PA was one of only five states that does not have a standard curriculum across the state.  

Our discussions were supposed to be guided by “all the research,” or at least the research that we were provided less than a week before today’s meeting.  Most of this research was conducted by ACT and some organizations assosicated with college testing agencies.  In fact, one of the key documents, “Rigor at Risk,” published by the ACT explicitly saw its study as a follow up to the federal government’s 1983 publication, A Nation at Risk.  The report suggests that since the publication of A Nation at Risk

almost every state has made significant efforts t o improve its educational system.  Nearly a quarter-century later, in a climate in which U.S. workers are dealing with new forms of technology and facing challenges of a global economy, it is not only reasonable but increasingly urgent to ask: Have we succeeded in fulfilling the goals of A Nation at Risk? (ACT, “Rigor at Risk).  

Of course we might draw attention to the fact that the 1983 study may have contributed to our current problems by narrowly defining curriculum to suit specific educational agendas.  I think it would be useful to revisit John Trimbur’s “Literacy and the Discourse of Crisis” in the midst of this discussion.  

Anyway, at several points in the discussion, Moran suggested that he would prefer one standard placement process across the State System.  However, he stopped short of saying this was necessary.  But, at several points he suggested that any “locally designed assessment” (directed self-placment being one of them) would need to demonstrate how the results could be compared to one of the standardized tests or standard State placement processes.  He said that it would be up to the people responsible at that university to “assess whether or not it would be worth the effort” to demonstrate compatabilty.  This approach seems very much like the State System’s buy-in to the  “Voluntary System of Accountability,” which I don’t have time to go into here. 

There seems to be some pressure coming from the State Legislature on this score.  Moran told us that “it would not surprise me if there is some move for legislative action on remediation.”  In fact, he is giving testimony before the Republican Caucus tomorrow morning on precisely this topic.  

The good thing about today’s process was the breakout sessions with other faculty across the State System.  One of the most productive aspects of the day was that we talked about our different approaches to placement, different student bodies, and different configurations of composition (some universities have two semesters of comp, others just one).  If anything, I think most members of this group are committed to keeping local control over the placement process.  While no one was opposed to discussing the kind of skills and practices that are necessary for a student to succeed in our first-year composition classes, I remain concerned that the outcome of our work is beyond our control.  For example, we could generate some very good principles and the State System could then turn around and look at the standardized tests that seem to reflect those principles.  I am not suggesting that is what will happen, only one of my concerns.

I’ll have to leave it at that for now.  I’m meeting some of my fellow compers for dinner.  Hopefully, I’ll be back later with an update.

Hey all.  So, guess where I am.  Harrisburg.  I just checked into a Days Inn at around 11:30pm on Monday.  Tomorrow will begin what is being billed as a “Work Group” to determine a common definition of “college ready” and to “standardize” placement  in “remedial” courses. Presumably the outcomes of this group will contribute to a standard for Math and Writing across the State System.  

Now, anyone who knows me and/or knows our program at KU might question what it is that I am doing here.  Well, as the Coordinator of Composition I was asked to represent KU for the “writing” work group.  To be honest, I don’t know exactly what to expect.  The initial request was fairly vague.  However, a couple of days ago, we got another  email laying out the agenda a little more.  That email came with several attachments (which I will post tomorrow).  

Since I believe in working in public where we can all see what’s going on and contribute to the conversation, I am posting the email I received in it’s entirety.  I wil also be posting updates to this blog to let you know what seems to be the general thrust of the meeting.  The one article we were  asked to read before our meeting tomorrow is a policy brief called “It’s Not About the Cut Score: Redefining Placement Assessment Policyto Improve Student Success” authored by Michael Lawrence Collins for a Boston policy institute called Jobs for the Future

So, in the meantime, here’s the email I received on May 6th:

Colleagues: 

Thank you for your willingness to come to Harrisburg to develop a more consistent model for determining the standards for “college ready” and placement across PASSHE.  We have attached a number of documents to help shape the discussion and would request that you review the paper titled, “It’s Not About the Cut Score” prior to the meeting.

Let me first provide you with some context for our discussions, then provide some background for the attachments and finally talk about the details regarding arrangements and compensation. 

Context:

The primary goal is to achieve consistency in the definition of “college-ready” across the System.  Right now the standards vary considerably from university to university. The “Achieve the Dream” initiative at community colleges has focused on this effort and Pennsylvania is participating in that effort. We believe that a common standard, not necessarily a common test, will, taken in context, be one of the factors that will serve to improve the quality of the preK-16 educational system across the Commonwealth.

One may ask: “Why now?”  We believe that we have the support of the current administration and PDE to move in this direction; community colleges are receptive to us taking the lead and are willing to join in on the effort at the appropriate time. 

Concurrent with this effort is an attempt to identify for the System a high school curriculum required for regular admission (e.g., four (4) years English; three (3) years Math including Algebra II; three (3) years Science, etc).  A set of common placement standards for reading and mathematics helps set the expectation for such a curriculum.

During the System-level deliberations related to the standards for concurrent enrollment programs, the CAOs identified a set of standards that students should meet to be identified as “college-ready.” Also, Middle States’ teams have connected placement standards with measures of student learning outcomes in assessing general education programs and inquired about the consistency across System universities. 

Moreover, as part of the transfer and articulation legislation, standards for transfer of foundation courses were established. However, in some cases courses listed in the System are identified as remedial courses, which should not transfer. Currently, legislative hearings on remediation are taking place and the concept of consistency has been raised. Several states have moved forward with creating standards, either at the state or System level (e.g., New Jersey Community Colleges just recently agreed on common standards).

The interest in the Keystone Examination (formerly known as graduation competency assessments – exit exams from high school) has raised the ante in all of the aforementioned discussions. Local assessments within this context are acceptable only if the local district demonstrates comparability to the basic standard.

As the Office of the Chancellor has prepared the data for these hearings, it is increasingly difficult to explain the variation among our universities in the number of students required to take remedial or developmental courses.

The advent of the PIMS project (Pennsylvania Information Management System) and the connection of the higher education databases to the preK-12 databases (made possible through the use of the PA Secure ID effort) enable significant opportunities to provide detailed feedback to high schools on the success of students and nature of the curriculum. Consistency in standards allows for greater power of analysis to provide better feedback for improvements and curriculum revisions.

We also recognize that setting a “cut score” will not be sufficient and revisions will be required over the next several years as we are able to research the success of students. The ability to track students through the high school, community college and PASSHE will enable us to have an excellent database to make subsequent revisions as necessary.

A few years ago there was considerable discussion about whether four-year institutions should be in the business of remediation. We believe there is clear recognition that in Pennsylvania, with limited access to community colleges and given our mission as Pennsylvania’s public universities, the PASSHE recognizes that we will be involved in some form of developmental education to provide students with higher education opportunities, and that we should have in place better assessments and support for students that have potential.

We believe that now is the time for PASSHE to take a leadership role in the Commonwealth to set standards to improve the education of all students. Placement testing is but one aspect to this larger effort but is important in helping set the context of expectation.

Note that this does NOT mean that the admission standards across the universities are to be common or that we intend for universities to become more or less selective. Those decisions are governed by the universities themselves and by other factors. We are also looking at how to revise the accountability and performance funding measures to better reflect the access and quality mission of PASSHE and may need to consider how any change in the placement process affects those key measures.

Resources:

An excellent paper to read is, “It’s Not About the Cut Score” put out by the Achieve the Dream initiative.

We have attached material that details the System level reports from universities about the number of students taking “remedial” courses. We also attached a preliminary paper that provides a summary analysis of some of this data.  In addition, included are some summary data of college and university standards we collected a few years ago (and may require updating).

ACT has published several major studies focusing on the readiness of students based on performance on the ACT. “Readiness” is defined as the likelihood of receiving a C or better in the first college course.  Note that although several states are using the ACT as a placement exam (e.g., Arkansas), most researchers agree that the SAT should not be similarly used and should be used only as a possible screening tool to determine who should take a placement test.  We have included material from ACT.

Note that the link to the foundation courses that are approved for transfer is www.patrac.org

Details:

We are asking that you make your own hotel and travel arrangements. Attached is a list of hotels in the area with links to their website so that you can view their facilities when making reservations. Reimbursement and compensation will be through your own university. Travel and meals must fit within the standard PASSHE travel guidelines. To assure that your “take home” compensation is approximately $500/day, we have set aside $1,700 gross compensation for each of you. 

NOTE:  You will receive two additional e-mails with the reference material.

 

Toward A Definition of 21st-Century Literacies
Adopted by the NCTE Executive Committee
February 15, 2008

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and
cross-culturally
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of
purposes
• Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous
information
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

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