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Local Educators Use Research to Better Prep Students for College

November 3, 2018
In the Media
Dan Squier

Although Humboldt County is home to a community college and Humboldt State University, too many of its high school grads aren’t ready for higher education.

In 2016, only 32 percent of Humboldt County high school graduates met minimum requirements for entry to a Cal State or University of California school — far below the state average of 45 percent.

Confronted with such numbers, local educators have worked on ways to better address students’ needs since 2014.

“Typically what we would look at was what’s wrong with the students,” said Heidi Moore-Guynup, assistant superintendent at the Humboldt County Office of Education. “What we found was we as educators had set up barriers and roadblocks that we, the adults had control over. For example, maybe we weren’t providing a student an opportunity to take makeup courses, when in fact there are many opportunities throughout the year to make up courses whether it’s summer school or after a semester break.”

Moore-Guynup was the local coordinator who brought together educators from across the county including Eureka High, Fortuna High, Northern Humboldt Union High School District, Mattole Valley Charter School, Southern Humboldt Unified School District, Alder Grove Charter and Ferndale High to form the Post-Secondary Strengthening Collaborative and they have spent the past four years developing strategies to address the issue of college preparedness.

Graduating high school students aiming to attend a California State University campus have to meet what CSU terms “the A-G requirements” — coursework in several subjects, including history/social science, English, foreign language, math, visual arts, science (including lab), and a college prep elective. That so few graduates from local schools were meeting those requirements led to the formation of the collaborative.

Moore-Guynup reached out to the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University to help provide research. One area for improvement was spotted straightaway.

“We were shocked to find that foreign language was a culprit because we don’t offer any makeup opportunities and if you fail the first semester there is no further opportunity to re-engage the student,” she said. “The data illuminated those concerns and showed us we had to better allocate our resources.”

The Gardener Center developed the College Readiness Indicator Systems resource suite to assist educators in identifying areas where they could develop the tools they can use in their respective districts to better prepare students using a process called cycles of inquiry.

They focused on the individual student, the school setting, and areas that can be targeted for improvement and then used the data gathered to make changes.

“We wanted to see more students engaged and participating in college prep, more students completing the A-G requirements,” Moore-Guynup said. “Every district selected a college readiness indicator specific to their context and it was an amazing opportunity to learn from one another. One of the things the collaborative has done is remove the competitiveness we saw between districts. That’s gone by the wayside; now we focus on what’s best for the kids and use shared insights and perspectives like we never have before.”

Moore-Guynup said that districts had soon found areas in which to improve. At Eureka High that meant a focus on foreign language. Northern Humboldt Union took a look at grading practices and whether there were similarities or not between how one teacher graded college prep assignments compared to another.

The collaborative effort will also be used in middle schools and elementary schools because it’s adaptable, it can be used to address an issue like chronic absenteeism or an issue in the academic arena or the behavioral arena, something Moore-Guynup said is key to better preparing kids for post-secondary education.

“One point I’d like to make it one of the most important variables in the research shows that participation, not even completion, but simple participation in a college prep class prepares you for college and it’s a goal to get more kids to participate,” Moore-Guynup said.

The ultimate goal is to better prepare more students for college and Moore-Guynup said the collaborative model has been a success, one she believes that will have a lasting impact.

“It was honestly transformational; it makes us better educators and allows us to be much more research-oriented and let the data drive the decisions,” she said. “I have so much appreciation for the Gardner Center and the unifying effect it’s had in Humboldt and in assisting us in our professional learning.”