Milwaukee to Pilot School Self-Assessment for College Readiness

May 16, 2014

By Bill DeBaun, Program Analyst

Milwaukee had seen the story the data were telling, and had been telling, for years. It was a story that repeated annually with too many students not graduating, not being academically prepared, not moving on to postsecondary education. In the summer of 2011, the city decided to try to change the story’s ending. That summer, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the Milwaukee Urban League, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee, and the Helen Bader Foundation came together to form Milwaukee Succeeds, a collective impact effort with the vision of “success for every child, in every school, cradle to career.” The effort has expanded to include partners from the nonprofit, foundation, higher education, business, parent, union sectors.

The Milwaukee Succeeds initiative thinks of itself as different from other endeavors with similar goals because of its partners’ shared common vision, data-driven decision making for continuous improvement, emphasis on collective impact, and identification of and investment in policies that are both effective and replicable.

Milwaukee Succeeds has four goals:

  1. [Early Childhood/School Readiness] All children are prepared to enter school
  2. [K-12 Academic Success] All children succeed academically and graduate prepared for meaningful work and/or college
  3. [Postsecondary Success] All young people use post-secondary education or training to advance their opportunities beyond high school
  4. [Student, Family, and Community Support] All children and young people are healthy, supported socially and emotionally, and contribute responsibly to the success of the Milwaukee community

Within Milwaukee Succeeds there exists a Postsecondary and Career Readiness Network comprised of the Milwaukee Public Schools (represented by Director of College and Career Readiness Rudy Ruiz), higher education partners, and college access and success programs (including NCAN members!), among others, who are working somewhere between goals 2 and 3 above in a space they wryly refer to as “Goal 2.5.” The need for improvement in this area is real, and it is urgent.

Consider a handful of stats from the State of Wisconsin’s WISEdash platform, which is robust and incredibly handy (other states take note!). Milwaukee is the largest school district in the state of Wisconsin, and it faces many of the challenges that urban districts do across the country. The secondary attainment and postsecondary enrollment statistics paint a picture of a district with room for improvement. Milwaukee has an attainment gap, like many other districts nationwide, but theirs is rather stark. For the graduating class of 2013, Asian (77%) and white (74%) students graduated at much higher rates than their black (58%) and Hispanic (56%) classmates. The graduation gap was not so wide between economically disadvantaged (59%) and non-disadvantaged (65%) students, but it still is troubling.

There is something of a postsecondary aspiration/expectation gap as well. In 2011-12, 62% of black students and 60% of Hispanic students reported planning to go to a 2- or 4-year school after high school graduation, much lower than rates reported by white (76%) and Asian (74%) students. That gap carried through to actual “first fall” postsecondary enrollment. Although all groups were lower than their expectations, less than 36% of black students and 34% of Hispanic students enrolled compared to 46% of white students and 47% of Asian students. The initial enrollment for economically disadvantaged students was 36% compared to 42% for non-economically disadvantaged students.

These attainment gaps are particularly troubling when the facts that nearly 80% of MPS students are students of color and more than 80% are economically disadvantaged are brought to bear.

With the necessity for action established, consider the work of the Milwaukee Succeeds Postsecondary and Career Readiness Network. The network looked to an NCAN member, the Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN) and their College Access Standards for Student Success. Milwaukee Succeeds then worked with the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC), a “a nationally recognized leader in the field of College and Career Readiness” that “provides research and tools to empower states, districts, schools, and teachers to prepare students for success beyond high school.” After looking at AzCAN’s standards and EPIC’s research and seeing where the two overlap, Milwaukee Succeeds adapted these resources into the “School Self-Assessment and Action Planning Tool” for schools in Milwaukee. (The previous link is a sampling of the draft document and rubric for assessment.) 

The planning tool is a broad set of college and career readiness competencies organized under seven key practices:

  1. Increase students’ awareness and build their college and career aspirations
  2. Communicate the benefits of a rigorous academic foundation and academic behaviors essential to students’ preparation for postsecondary pathways
  3. Develop the postsecondary knowledge and skills necessary for students to successfully transition into postsecondary education pathways
  4. Teach the fundamentals of financial literacy and financial planning for postsecondary education
  5. Impart the value of developing a comprehensive support system that leads to academic success
  6. Help students recognize the importance of cultural socio-emotional factors that impact their academic experience
  7. Foster persistence for successful completion of postsecondary education program of study

Each and every competency under these practices is categorized as either promoting a culture of postsecondary readiness, developing 21st century skills, supporting transitions, or some combination of the three.

During the 2014-15 academic year, both public and private schools will pilot this planning tool and assess themselves on a scale of 1 (learning) to 5 (embedded) on each student competency. After completing the self-assessment and creating an initial internal plan, school stakeholders will then turn to parents, businesses, and the community to develop a final action plan. After weaknesses are identified, schools can then reach out to network partners for specific resources and inputs. Seem confusing? There are a lot of moving parts. Representatives from Milwaukee Succeeds encourage looking at developing plans one practice at a time, hitting the competencies that need work, rather than focusing on every individual competency. At the 10,000 foot level, this is all about getting students to be college and career reader, and so the obstacles to doing so will be identified with this tool.

As action plans are implemented, outcomes will be measured both formatively (e.g., pre/post assessments of student support in key practices) and summarily (e.g., percentage of students on-track for college and career readiness, enrollment in pre-college programs).

With such a large undertaking, buy-in is important not only from the stakeholders around the schools but also especially so from the stakeholders within the schools. Administrator and teacher buy-in are especially important because the development of many of these competencies would normally be borne by already overtaxed guidance departments. Fortunately, many administrators have been asking about how to improve the college-going culture in their schools, which indicates a demand for this kind of focus anyway. Additionally, Milwaukee Succeeds performed a process in the fall where they brought in a school’s principal and school counseling department chair, as well as college access partners, to hash out the coordination of key services on key initiatives.

This undertaking is certainly a large one for MPS. An eventual college and career readiness action plan for each middle and high school in the district will go a long way toward instilling in students with the knowledge that they can achieve a postsecondary education and how to go about doing so. This is far from the only data-related development in the district. A future blog post will detail how MPS has aligned itself with NCAN’s Common Measures and continues to develop its data system to in order to improve services that drive student performance. Until then, be sure to leave any questions about the School Self-Assessment and Action Planning Tool, or Milwaukee Succeeds in general, in the comments section. We will be sure to check in to hear how the piloting process proceeds!

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