College Readiness: Academic, career, and life skills to be successful
Every once in a while, I turn the pleasure of writing my monthly message to the community over to a colleague. This gives you a break from me, a chance to hear from others in the school district, and the opportunity to learn more about areas of the district that we may not often highlight. With that, Denise Waalen, Director of Educational Services, will provide you with a great update on our college readiness initiative --Jeff Ronneberg, Ed.D, Superintendent
Our vision in the Spring Lake Park School District is to have every student college-ready by graduation. You might be thinking, hasn’t it always been the goal, in every school district, to have every student leave high school ready to go to college?
In reality, many school systems have historically focused their efforts on graduation, not the pursuit of success in post-secondary education. Statistics show that about 70 percent of high school students currently pursue post-secondary plans and only about 38 percent complete a four-year degree.
We know that not all students will need an advanced degree to be successful in life, but the skills for college-readiness are necessary. In the Spring Lake Park Schools, being “college-ready” means that we want to ensure that every student has the choice to attend a two-year or four-year college, to enter the military, or to begin a career with the academic, career, and life skills to be successful. The path that each child takes will certainly vary depending on his or her personal goals and interests. We know that opportunities for success increase when there is a clear plan early on in students’ school careers that is individualized to reflect their chosen pathway and interests.
So how do we expect to accomplish ensuring college readiness in Spring Lake Park? What’s different from other districts communicating the same message about the importance of all students being college-ready?
A design team of Spring Lake Park educators developed a College and Career Readiness Continuum over the past year to communicate with students, families, and the community precisely what it means to be college-ready in Spring Lake Park. The team began by analyzing available research from thought leaders (experts) in the field to assure that our continuum would be well-designed and provide the best chance for success in achieving the results that we expect for all students.
This College Readiness Continuum identifies specific student achievement benchmarks as students progress through the grades. This continuum provides a clear set of targets so teachers, students, and parents are able to assess current levels of student readiness for college, and areas for needed development and possible enrichment.
Equally critical to a student’s success are the career and life skills necessary for post-secondary success. An interactive version of the continuum with specific drill-down information on the benchmarks will be completed and shared in January.
Our teaching staff is currently refining student learning outcomes and developing common course assessments in all core subject areas, in alignment with the previously mentioned student achievement benchmarks. This includes ensuring we have college-ready pathways that support all students; a core course pathway for the majority who have often been defined as students “in the middle,” an advanced or honors pathway that has traditionally been associated with college, and a pathway that provides support for our struggling students, accelerating their learning and opening doors and opportunities.
Upon completion of these pathways, we will also design and embed interest-based pathways within each, such as our Opportunities in Emergency Care (OEC) program at the high school, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
Finally, as mentioned above, we will also implement individual student learning plans in the near future. We are in the development stage of designing these plans, beginning with our early childhood learners.
The work on college readiness is supported by previous initiatives within the district.
For several years, we have provided extensive professional learning for staff on how to personalize learning for all students. This included Differentiation, providing multiple pathways for success in the classroom; Authentic Instruction, which includes asking higher level questions and engaging in dialogue with peers, and Developing Meaningful Relationships with Students, because we know that students learn best when they have a positive connection with their teachers.
We recently developed a “just in time” curriculum development process that allows us to be adaptive to the needs of the ever-changing curriculum standards at the state and national levels. We have curriculum leads in each subject area who continually analyze student data and continually make curriculum adjustments as needed.
Embedded in this process this year are rigorous efforts to ensure that our outcomes for students are aligned with college expectations and have common assessments to guide instruction and learning. This process is supported by a new data management system providing immediate access to student achievement, career, and life skills data.
Digital learning is another component that will assist us in preparing our students for their future.
With the implementation of the 1:1 Digital Learning Initiative this year, virtually all students will have access to top-notch technology to support their learning. Upon completion of our technology phase-in plan, teachers and students will be able to increase communication opportunities, give immediate feedback on student work, collaborate together, and make connections globally without restraints on time or space.
In addition, our high school, middle school, and Learning Alternative programs were among a select few schools chosen to be part of the Ramp Up To Readiness program administered through the University of Minnesota’s College Readiness Consortium. This program is providing curriculum, resources, and professional learning to enhance the work already in place, and helping to ensure that all students are college-ready when they graduate.
As you can see, we have been very intentional about ensuring that our whole system provides the pathways for success for each and every student. We have more work to do, but we are excited to further expand our efforts through flexible schedules, additional online learning opportunities, interest-based pathways of the future, student learning plans, and embedded college opportunities.
Director of Educational Services,
Spring Lake Park School District