A New Metric for High School Success

This morning, I was drawn to a Michigan news report that East Lansing and Okemos High Schools are among the "top ten" in the state, according to U.S. News & World Report rankings. Curious, I wondered how these rankings were determined.

According to their website, U.S. News selected schools for their list using a three step process (emphasis added):

The first two steps ensured that the schools serve all of their students well, using performance on state proficiency tests as the benchmarks. For those schools that made it past the first two steps, a third step assessed the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work.

Essentially, they are ranking schools by:

  1. First, comparing each school's standardized assessment scores in math and reading to state averages (with an unspecified nod to schools with higher levels of economically disadvantaged students).
  2. Then, they compare each school's standardized assessment scores in math and reading for black, Hispanic, and low-income students to state averages for the same groups.
  3. Of the schools that perform better than state averages in both of the areas specified above, U.S. News ranks them "using Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test data" as the benchmark for college-readiness.

    This third step measured which schools produced the best cllege-level achievement for the highest percentages of their students. This was done by computing a "college readiness index" (CRI) based on the school's AP or IB participation rate (the number of 12th-grade students in the 2010-2011 academic year who took at least one AP or IB test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th-graders) and how well the students did on those tests.

My district is in its first of a three-year initiative to transform our traditional high school into an Early College. From 2007 through 2010, 74% of our students chose to attend a 2- or 4- year postsecondary institution. Of that group, only 44% successfully completed their first year; thirty percent have yet to earn their first 24 credits. We think we can improve upon this and are working with the New Tech Network and the state of Michigan to re-imagine everything we do to get there. Our goal for the class of 2016 and beyond is a first-year postsecondary success rate of at least eighty percent.

To achieve this goal, we will decrease the number Advanced Placement courses we offer, and we have no plans to start an International Baccalaureate program. In fact, we may stop offering any advanced courses at our high school altogether.

We're serious.

Our vision of a future in which all students are prepared for postsecondary education involves:

  1. letting any student who is prepared to go to college dual enroll as early as their junior year of high school.
  2. increasing our focus on the students who are not yet prepared through changes in curriculum, instruction, and interventions.
  3. offering all students the opportunity to "stick with us" for a fifth year so we can offer support and funding for their first year of college.

As students in our Early College, all young adults in our community have an opportunity to earn up to an associates degree from our area community college after five years of high school. The credits earned toward this degree (or non-degree program) are fully transferrable, earned on the college campus (we plan offer shuttle service to and from our building), and are completely free to the student. Students who elect to "stick around" for that fifth year can attend all classes at the community college and never have to step foot back into the high school if they don't want to.

Our early estimate, based on data collected from the class of 2016 during their freshmen year, is that 60-70% of our students will opt to let us pay for their first year of college. Approximately 20%-30% tell us that they currently want to leave immediately after high school to attend a 4-year university. Around 10% of our students have alternative plans involving the military, a trade, or an alternative career.

We are in talks with other institutions of postsecondary education interested in partnering to offer a wider range of opportunities to our diverse student body. For us and our community, success is not defined only by college entrance and success.

Let's assume that my teachers and I are able to achieve our goal and, in fact, over 80% of our students complete their first year of postsecondary education successfully. Let's assume that this success occurs evenly amongst our diverse population.

I am sure the growth from 44% to 80% would be noted by someone. The community and the school would all be pleased and as proud of our young people as ever. The Board of Education might recognize our efforts. The news might even pick up on the story of our success.

But ….

Due of the narrowness of criteria used by organizations like U.S. News to define college readiness for their rankings, we will be listed below (far below) the larger schools in our state that offer Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses.

In the end, I don't care to make it onto these lists; that's not my point. Rather, my hope is that by telling my school's story, and by sharing the methods behind how these lists are compiled, we might start a conversation about the metrics being used to evaluate the success of our schools.

After all, should schools be assessed by the number of students whom are successful at scoring well on complex tests? Or, should they be assessed by the number of students whom are successful at actually completing their postsecondary goals?

Isn't it time that we find a new metric for high school success?