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California study finds teachers aren't connecting students to what colleges expect

Principal Carla McCullough teaches the College Readiness class in her charter school's one-week 9th grade summer bridge program.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC
File photo: Principal Carla McCullough teaches the college readiness class in her charter school's one-week 9th-grade summer bridge program. A new study says college readiness should be part of what students learn every day.

A new report out Tuesday found a big piece is missing from California’s massive effort to focus schools on new learning standards like critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Students aren't learning what colleges want and expect from its applicants, according to the think tank EdInsights based at California State University, Sacramento

California policymakers approved the Common Core learning standards in 2012, in large part to better prepare students for college. But some students are unaware of what it takes to enter and succeed in college.

“The students who don’t already have access to channels around college culture and college readiness are the ones who get lost in the mix,” said Andrea Venezia, a study co-author.

The study, called “Leveraging the Common Core to Support College and Career Readiness in California,” also found:

  • Teachers didn’t have enough specific information about what’s expected of students entering community colleges and the California State University and University of California systems.
  • Teachers and administrators weren’t clear how the Common Core math and English learning standards connect with college and career readiness.
  • State officials need to guide school districts toward higher education partnerships to infuse classrooms with college and career culture.
  • School districts need more incentives and support to build stronger relationships with surrounding colleges and universities. Current state funding formulas don’t provide these incentives.

“The more our institutions can make those opportunities a regular part of the day, the more that’ll capture and support students who are traditionally underserved,” Venezia said.
Researchers interviewed 91 teachers, administrators, and policymakers in California. One high school teacher, Venezia said, didn’t understand what the five community colleges and the Cal State campus in his region want from college applicants.

“So he doesn’t know how to message all of that information back to his students in a coherent way that can help them with their decision-making, with their families,” she said.

If Common Core is to deliver on the promise of better preparing students for college, she said, California high school students need to hear about college readiness every day.

The good news, Venezia said, is that educators say the Common Core has injected more optimism and professionalism into the classroom.

“It’s such a 180 from the previous standards,” she said, referring to those measured by high-stakes, multiple-choice tests and unaligned with skills needed in a competitive world market.

“For veteran teachers, it felt like a return to professionalism and, for newer teachers, it felt like what they hoped they’d be experiencing when they entered the classroom doors.”