More than 250 Rio Grande Valley educators and administrators gathered at The University of Texas-Pan American Nov. 2 to participate in the inaugural P-16 Summit - a conference designed to address the issue of college readiness among students in the Valley.
"The issue of college readiness is very important because a third of our freshmen come out of high school needing remediation before they can enroll in college-level courses," Dennis McMillan, UTPA associate vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, said. "This is a problem witnessed nationwide, not just in the Valley. That is why readiness is one of the most significant issues being addressed in the P-16 environment."
Kira Holt, senior consultant at ACT, Inc. and keynote speaker, said educators should have a common understanding about what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college-level work and the workplace. She said educators should also expand early access, ensure a seamless transition across grades, close the achievement gap, upgrade teacher education and expand the last two years of high school to include dual enrollment to improve college readiness.
In an effort to develop an assessment system to show how many students in middle school and high school were prepared for college-level work ACT, Inc. created the Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS). ACT, Inc. is a national not-for-profit organization that provides assessment, research, information and program management services in the areas of education and workforce development.
Holt explained that EPAS includes three assessments that students can take while in middle school and high school that will give educators an idea of college readiness in different content areas.
Of the Texas students who took the ACT test during the 2005-2006 school year, 61 percent are likely to be ready for college English, 40 percent are likely to be ready for college math, 46 percent are likely to be ready for college reading and 22 percent are likely to be ready for college science, Holt said.
Of the students in the Rio Grande Valley who took the test, 35 percent were likely to be ready for college English, 17 percent were likely to be ready for college math, 23 percent were likely to be ready for college reading and seven percent were likely to be ready for college science.
During his presentation, Dr. Pedro Reyes, associate vice chancellor for Academic Planning and Assessment at The University of Texas System, identified several areas of reform that need to be addressed in public education in order to ensure students are ready for college.
"The standards for college readiness are confusing," he said. "There are also differences in high school and college placement assessments. The workload and curriculum in high school and college are different as well."
Reyes recommended aligning curriculum for community colleges, high schools and universities, as well as aligning high school assessment with college placement tests. He also said the state should develop financial aid incentives to improve college readiness.
Holt said students should take specific courses beyond the Texas Recommended High School Program and that student success should be measured by examining retention and grades in postsecondary education.
"Educators should also use EPAS scores and college readiness benchmarks to identify students who need interventions early and often," she said. "Additionally, educators should vertically align pre-collegiate courses and identify the essential outcomes for these courses."
Attendees also separated into smaller groups for panel sessions and discussed how partnerships could be established, what resources are currently in place and how they can be improved, and some common curriculum expectations between high school and college.
UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas told educators that the University and other institutions are committed to student success and stressed the importance of a college education in the coming years.
"The children in first grade today will most likely have a life extension of 120 years. If they are not prepared with post secondary education, those are going to be, in most cases, 120 years of a lesser life," Cárdenas said.
McMillan said the meeting gave middle school and high school educators the chance to interact, share syllabi and visit college classrooms.
"The summit allowed high school and college faculty the opportunity to have face-to-face discussions while eliminating blame and replacing it with cooperation," he said.