Thursday, October 22, 2009

Higher Achievement Speaks Out on Core Standards

Recently, the DC State Board of Education (DCSBOE) held a joint public hearing with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to review the proposed common core college and career readiness standards. This state-led proposal aims to create the college and career readiness standards in English-language arts and mathematics to establish what students should know to succeed in college courses and in the workforce.

Higher Achievement’s Chief of Programs, Rachel Gwaltney, presented at this hearing. Her comments are below:

Good evening, and thank you for this opportunity to publicly comment on the proposed common core standards.

My name is Rachel Gwaltney and I am here in my capacity as Chief of Programs for Higher Achievement, a national non-profit organization providing rigorous, year-round academic supports to middle school students during out-of-school time. Currently Higher Achievement serves over 550 students, about 350 of those here in the District.

Higher Achievement supports the common core standards being developed for national implementation. No matter where students live or go to school, all children have the capacity to learn at high levels if given the right opportunities and supports. I’ll say it again: talent is everywhere, in every community, in every school and every home. What we need is a common goal of preparing all students to be ready for a range of college and career options. The common core standards will establish for all schools and academic support providers like Higher Achievement, the key skills that all students must attain to be college and career ready. By understanding a common set of standards, schools and programs can truly collaborate to meet the needs of learners at each grade level, in every community.

Common core standards are a critical tool in ensuring that academic support providers like Higher Achievement align their work with what happens during the school day. This alignment allows a natural and seamless extension of academic support beyond the school day, giving those students who do need more support, all of the resources necessary for them to achieve and succeed at the same level as their more resourced peers.

The value of core standards is not only in defining a discrete set of skills, but in supporting a national culture of high expectations for learning for all students. We know that students will rise or sink to the expectations set for them by adults. Only by closing the expectations gap with high quality standards for all children, can we ever hope to close the achievement gap. Achieving high quality and challenging standards gives each student the opportunity to make a choice about his or her future, whether it be college, a career, or another path, rather than having that choice taken away or imposed on him/her merely by circumstances of birth into a certain community. To fully realize the potential that these standards hold for our community, what will be needed still is an agreed-upon measure of whether students achieve those standards, and financial support to equitably implement those standards in every community.

Higher Achievement knows from over 3 decades of experience that a culture of high expectations and rigorous academic work, aligned with the work that students do in school does lead to success. Research shows that 8th grade achievement is the best predictor of college readiness; during the critical middle school years, Higher Achievement reverses the typical decline of grades, with scholars improving from an average GPA of about 2.5 in 5th grade, to an average of about 3.2 in 8th grade. (For more information, refer to ACT (2008). The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring that All Students are On Target for College and Career Readiness before High School. Iowa City, IA.)

In 07-08, 100% of DC Higher Achievement scholars improved their DC CAS scores by an average of 20%, especially remarkable gains for the most vulnerable, disadvantaged youth. Over the past 35 years and working closely with the district, principals, and classroom teachers, Higher Achievement has helped over 10,000 young people develop the skills behaviors, and attitudes they need to be college and career ready, sending them on to college preparatory high schools and then college. We are excited to continue as a partner to DCPS, OSSE, and the entire community to further develop this collaboration around the core common standards, and to generate these outcomes for every student in the District.

Thank you.

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