Getting to the Core with GEAR UP

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In the fall of 2013, the California Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) convened school teams from 48 middle schools serving predominantly low-income students in three locations to learn more about academic rigor and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). With the help of representatives from College Board — a program partner — participants viewed a model English Language Arts (ELA) lesson that is aligned to CCSS and practiced using instructional strategies that engage students across all curriculum areas.

In the spring and fall of 2014, the California GEAR UP Program offered a variety of interactive, participatory workshops in mathematics and English/Language Arts to representatives from all 48 participating GEAR UP middle schools. Sessions were led by expert educators focused on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards from a social justice and educational equity perspective.

Building on these CCSS activities, the California GEAR UP Program is in the second year of a pilot program with selected middle schools that are using the College Board Pre-Advanced Placement (Pre-AP) Programs in mathematics and English/Language Arts. The Program provides staffing and funding for this quality professional development opportunity for teachers with SpringBoard trainers. This pilot is aligned with the program goal of building capacity at the school site and positively influences the ways in which teachers instruct to meet the individualized and differentiated manner in which students learn.

 

Ann Carnes, Professional Development Manager, California GEAR UP

SAT Redesigns Admissions Test, Drops Essay

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Creators of the SAT exam announced plans Wednesday to toughen the test in the face of stagnant national scores, planning to challenge students to provide more analysis, cite evidence and even turn in their calculators before answering some math questions. The new version will be first administered in 2016.

“It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming but the challenging learning students do every day,” said David Coleman, president of the non-profit College Board, which produces the SAT, originally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Skeptics questioned whether a new format will be any more successful than previous efforts to use the standardized test in a campaign for college access, in part because the test’s scores historically have correlated with family income. They also point out that the 88-year-old SAT in recent years has slipped behind the rival ACT — a shorter exam with an optional essay — in total student customers.

Through the revisions, the College Board aims to strip many of the tricks out of a test now taken by more than 1.5 million students in each year’s graduating high school class. The College Board also pledged to offer new test-preparation tutorials for free online, enabling students to bypass pricey SAT-prep classes previously available mostly to affluent families looking to give their children an edge.

But in the redesign will be “SAT words” that have long prompted anxious students to cram with flashcards, as the test will now focus on vocabulary words that are widely used in college and career. The College Board hasn’t yet cited examples of words deemed too obscure, but “punctilious,” “phlegmatic” and “occlusion” are three tough ones in an official study guide.

Out, too, will be a much-reviled rule that deducts a quarter-point for each wrong answer to multiple-choice questions, deterring random guesses. Also gone: The 2400-point scale begun nine years ago with the debut of the required essay. The essay will become optional.

Back will be one of the iconic numbers of 20th-century America: The perfect SAT score, crystalline without a comma, returns to 1600.

Coleman, head of the College Board since fall 2012, previously was a key figure in the development of the new Common Core State Standards. Those standards, which set national expectations for what students should learn in math and English from kindergarten through 12th grade, have been fully adopted in 45 states and the District. Coleman’s vision for the SAT, with emphasis on analysis of texts from a range of disciplines as well as key math and language concepts, appears to echo the philosophy underlying the Common Core and could help the test track more closely with what students are learning in the nation’s classrooms.

Whether the College Board can break the link between test scores and economic class is the subject of much debate. Critics complained that too little time was given for essay revisions and that assignments did not reflect the level of analysis expected in college. Some college admissions officers also were lukewarm.

“As a predictor of student success, a 25-minute essay isn’t going to tell us a great deal,” said Stephen J. Handel, associate vice president of undergraduate admissions for the University of California.

And in recent years, more and more students were gravitating toward the rival ACT exam. The SAT has long been dominant on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in the Washington region. The ACT, launched in 1959 and overseen by an organization based in Iowa, attracts more students in the middle of the country and the South.

The two tests overlap in mission but diverge in style and content, with the ACT traditionally measuring achievement (including a science section) and the SAT measuring thinking skills. But the ACT has made inroads on the SAT’s turf, and many students now take both. In 2012, the ACT surpassed the SAT in the number of reported test-takers.

ACT President Jon L. Erickson said he was “a little underwhelmed” by the College Board’s announcement. “I appreciate and I’m glad they’re fixing their acknowledged flaws in their test,” he said.

Both exams also are facing challenges from the growing test-optional movement. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing lists about 800 colleges and universities that admit a substantial number of undergraduates without requiring them to submit SAT or ACT scores.

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College Board Partners Wow the Crowd at Leadership Events

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 College Board presenters Douglas Waugh, David Jones, and Ana Galindo Shapiro.

This fall we were honored to have College Board, a California GEAR UP strategic partner, provide demonstration lessons at all of our Principal and Leadership Team events that took place across the state. These events focus on the use of our SSAR (school self assessment rubric) to look at school-wide perceptions and provides opportunities to learn about successes and challenges from other school teams. With the looming implementation of Common Core State Standards, schools have requested additional information and support, to which we responded with the College Board CCSS Demonstration Lesson.

One of the presenters, Ana Galindo Shapiro, was kind enough to sit down with us and talk about why she believes in this work so much.

How did you start working with schools and why are you passionate about it?

I started working with the College Board as an AP US History teacher. I remember attending my first AP Summer Institute, during which we participated in a Socratic Seminar using the Board’s recently revised Equity and Access Statement. I was working with students who broke the mold of what an AP student “looks like” for some. Many were English Learners, read below grade level, or were the first in their families to have their sights set on college- but they were so dedicated to challenging themselves. I knew that I was doing important work by believing in my students and supporting them through really rigorous learning experiences. I’m still passionate about that work today; I just have a different audience!

What do you think the most important thing teachers can be collaborating on right now to prepare for the implementation of common core and associated assessments?

I think teachers have an opportunity through the Common Core to teach students to think critically and creatively, something our state assessments have perhaps geared us away from in the past decade. It is really powerful to think that we’ll have assessments that actually honor students building solid arguments, explaining their reasoning, and focusing on depth over a breadth of topics is really exciting.

What was your experience in middle school like and how were you influenced to go to college?

I was an average student in middle school and high school. My father is an educator, and college was not really optional for me; it was a question of where to go (which was really exciting for both of us to explore). I didn’t really find my thrill of learning until college, when I think I was challenged for the first time. I loved being learning history in a historical place, surrounded by really curious young people.

 What do you think are some of the most important factors that will contribute to preparation for and student success in college?

I know that student peer influence is really strong for student success in college. Just like in middle and high school, it is really important for kids to feel connected to their peers and the adults around them. I’ve been reading a lot about growth mindsets and “grit” and how predictive they are to student success, more so than academic or socio-economic factors. That’s inspiring because these are things schools can help to cultivate in young people.

What are some of the most effective ways to create a college-going culture in our school community?

Young people need to “see” themselves going to college. Experiences like college trips, hosted by students who have similar backgrounds, or having tutors on campus that students can relate to is helpful. Adults need to also “see” their students as college bound. This goes beyond speaking it, it requires teachers to understand that there’s a lot of support and sometimes tough love that kids need to make it into and through college. Parents need to “see” their students heading to college by being exposed to college processes and encouraging their children to stick to it when things get difficult.

Tell us about some of the College Board initiatives you are most proud of.

I am most proud of SpringBoard, because ours is a program explicitly designed to support all teachers and students in getting ready for college.

When did you first start working with GEAR UP and why is the work important?

I first started working with GEAR UP as a high school principal. Two of our graduating cohorts were supported since 6th grade with additional staff, materials, and experiences. All students should benefit from these additional resources, designed to put them on a solid path to college. Even though two classes had the direct benefit from GEAR UP, the entire school culture was shaped by work.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love being able to work with educators across school, district, and state lines to learn from their challenges and insights.

 Anything else you would like to share with the GEAR UP Community?

I really enjoyed our time together and hope we’ll see each other again soon!

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California GEAR UP Wraps Principal and Leadership Institutes

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After two months of hard work we are excited to announce all 48 California GEAR UP Middle Schools completed two day institutes across the state. These facilitated strategic planning sessions are the core of California GEAR UP work, involving all School Leadership Team members, Whole School Services Coaches, GEAR UP staff, and our statewide partnership organizations.

Some of the highlights of the institutes were the Common Core State Standards demonstration lesson from the College Board and the premier of our Ideas in Action rotation that included presentations from our school leadership teams. Ideas in Action looked everything from technology in the classroom to the implementation of Instructional Rounds school-wide to placing students in classes for success.

The two-day Institute uses our SSAR (school self assessment rubric) to look at school-wide perceptions  and offers strategies and techniques for focusing on the school-determined needs. It provides opportunities to learn about successes and challenges from other school teams. The institutes also provide additional opportunity for the School Leadership Team to work on the SSAR conditions and plan for implementation of their PDAP (professional development action plan)goals. Trained facilitators provide direction through a guided discussion and reflection promotes the beginning of a shared vision, the identification and coordination of resources, and the use of student data to develop and implement a unified schoolwide plan.

Schools teams will now return to their sites with a better understanding of creating a transformative community-wide college going culture while being better equipped to leverage GEAR UP resources. Being a California GEAR UP school is a 6 year process, of which schools are embarking upon their second year. California GEAR UP School Services Coaches will meeting with schools across the state to facilitate use of GEAR UP tools, work on implementing Professional Development Action Plans, and scheduling Partnership and Statewide Services.

The purpose of California GEAR UP is to develop and sustain the organizational capacity of middle schools to prepare all students for high school and higher education through a statewide network of support for adults who influence middle school students, specifically their counselors, faculty, school leaders and families. As a result of this expanded capacity, a higher proportion of students, particularly from backgrounds and communities that have not historically pursued a college education, will enroll and succeed in higher education.

For more information on California GEAR UP, please visit our website.

To see pictures of California GEAR UP Schools in action, check out our Facebook page and let us know what you think.

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Statewide Higher Education Tools Conference Announced

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California GEAR UP is pleased to invite you to attend ‘Effective Tools for Preparing Students for Access and Success in Higher Education.’ Presented by a statewide network of higher education organizations, the purpose of this conference is to begin the scalability process with respect to these resource tools and strategies with the following objectives in mind:

  • More secondary school and higher educational staff will be aware and knowledgeable of these resource tools
  • Secondary schools, Academic Preparation Program staff, and community organizations will adopt and adapt these tools to expand the efficacy and effectiveness of their college counseling with students.

Ultimately, the goal of this conference is that more students, particularly from African-American, Latino, Native American, and low-income communities, will be prepared for enrollment and success in college through the utilization of these resource tools. Members of these audiences are highly encouraged to attend: Secondary School Administrators, Counselors, and Teachers, Community Organization Staff, Guiding Secondary School Students on College Preparation, Academic Preparation Program Directors, Counselors, and Advisors, Outreach Officers from Higher Educational Institutions. 

Sponsors include:

ACT, Inc.

Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities

California Community Colleges

California Department of Education

California GEAR UP Program

California State University

College Access Foundation of California

California Education Round Table Intersegmental Coordinating Committee (ICC)

College Board

ScholarShare College Savings Plan

University of California

To register at no cost, please visit the ICC  Website.

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California GEAR UP Schools Complete Statewide Institutes

 

It took six hard earned weeks, but we are excited to announce all 48 California GEAR UP Middle Schools completed two day institutes across the state. These facilitated strategic planning sessions are the core of California GEAR UP work, involving all School Leadership Team members, Whole School Services Coaches, GEAR UP staff, and our statewide partnership organizations.

“The GEAR UP institutes provide out team the opportunity to further solidify our college going culture here at Samuel Jackman Middle School.  We are able to accomplish this through the team based guided discussions and common planning time that is available to us during the institutes. GEAR UP and the resources the program provides has been a tremendous asset to our school community.”  

-Principal Paul Burke, Jackman Middle School  

The two-day Institute uses the SSAR (school self assessment rubric) to look at school-wide perceptions  and offers strategies and techniques for focusing on the school-determined needs. It provides opportunities to learn about successes and challenges from other school teams. The institutes also provide additional opportunity for the School Leadership Team to work on the SSAR conditions and plan for implementation of their PDAP (professional development action plan)goals. Trained facilitators provide direction through a guided discussion and reflection promotes the beginning of a shared vision, the identification and coordination of resources, and the use of student data to develop and implement a unified schoolwide plan.

Featured activities at the institutes included Leadership Team panels to kick the first day off. In Glendale, Gage Middle School from Huntington Park, CA shared their pathway to becoming a GEAR UP School, and implementing a college-going culture throughout their school while increasing their API and gaining community wide buy-in for their common goals. In Northern California, Harris Middle School (pictured above) shared an inspiring story of coalescing a high functioning leadership team, and even finished their panel with a rousing school song. In Irvine, Vista Heights Middle School in Moreno Valley, CA shared their journey of engaging parents and families effectively while convincing teachers to continue to strive for high expectations despite ‘good’ API results, and the resulting ‘good to great’ transformation.

“California GEAR UP work is about building relationships with the adults who want to change school culture for the better, so that ALL students are prepared to go college. It is systemic change. Despite lay-offs, budget cuts and the changes that come along with these:  teachers, counselors and administrators want what is best for kids and it has shown in the amazing work of the leadership teams at our events.  This is truly meaningful work.”  -Gina Rodriguez, Whole School Services Manager.

Statewide Partnership Services were featured over the two day institutes and include professional development from The College Board and AVID, as well as family engagement services from PIQE and CEP. Presentations from MDTP (math diagnostic testing project) and CaliforniaColleges.Edu shared services to be used directly in the classroom.

Schools teams will now return to their sites with a better understanding of creating a transformative community-wide college going culture while being better equipped to leverage GEAR UP resources. Being a California GEAR UP school is a 6 year process, of which schools are embarking upon their second year. California GEAR UP School Services Coaches will meeting with schools across the state to facilitate use of GEAR UP tools, work on implementing Professional Development Action Plans, and scheduling Partnership and Statewide Services.

The purpose of California GEAR UP is to develop and sustain the organizational capacity of middle schools to prepare all students for high school and higher education through a statewide network of support for adults who influence middle school students, specifically their counselors, faculty, school leaders and families. As a result of this expanded capacity, a higher proportion of students, particularly from backgrounds and communities that have not historically pursued a college education, will enroll and succeed in higher education.

For more information on California GEAR UP, please visit our website.

To see pictures of California GEAR UP Schools in action, check out our Facebook page and let us know what you think.