Preparing students for college and a career is the mission of every public K-12 school system, and this work begins by establishing a strong foundation for success in the early grades.
At Marlboro Township (NJ) Public Schools, a K-8 district, we are doing several things to ensure that our students are on a path to college and career readiness before they move on to high school. Our efforts seem to be paying off, as all of our elementary and middle schools are rated by the state as either “shows progress” or “excels” in terms of reading and math achievement. Moreover, we have the largest number of students in our area who are accepted into highly competitive vocational schools.
Here are four strategies that we believe are essential to any college and career readiness initiative.
1. Be sure all students meet rigorous academic standards.
A new generation of state standards has been designed to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Under these more rigorous standards, students are expected to read more complex texts and reach greater depths of knowledge than before. So, the first step in any college and career readiness initiative is to be sure students are on track for meeting these high standards.
We use common district assessments to track our students’ progress toward meeting state standards in ELA and math. Students in grades 1-8 take the same assessment at least four times a year, and sometimes five, depending on their grade level. We use these common assessments to identify the skills and standards where students are either struggling or excelling.
Teachers use this information to differentiate instruction in small group settings in order to enrich, remediate, or reinforce grade-level skills. Furthermore, our district data team uses the information to shape professional development and inform how we teach.
For instance, in analyzing the results of our common math assessments one year, we noticed that 40 percent of our fifth graders did not realize that “.6” and “.60” referred to the same number. We traced this problem back to the fourth-grade math textbook, which notes that adding a zero to the end of a number increases the size of the number by a factor of ten. When these students moved to fifth grade, many took this knowledge and applied it in a way that seemed logical to them but was incorrect. This was an eye opening experience for us. We would not have known this was a problem without our common district assessments to evaluate instruction.
In light of this knowledge, we revised our units of study when teaching place values, so this misconception wouldn’t happen again. Administering common district assessments, and using the data to inform our instruction, helps us assess where we are as a district and make continual improvements to drive higher achievement.