RCA Newsletter: December 2021
The Reimagining College Access (RCA) initiative is a national effort to advance the use of high-quality performance assessments completed by secondary students for higher education admissions, placement, and advising decisions. The approach is intended to increase college access by expanding and deepening information about secondary students’ preparedness for higher education while deepening high school education by focusing on meaningful and rigorous work. The initiative, led by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) in collaboration with EducationCounsel, brings together a diverse group of k–12 and higher education policy and practice leaders engaged in using authentic assessments of students’ competencies and mastery of skills needed for college, work, and life in the 21st century.
This quarterly newsletter provides updates about the work of the RCA initiative, the RCA network members, and other partners seeking to reimagine college access and success, as well as about national trends in college admissions.
The 4th Annual RCA convening on November 3 and 4 brought together a diverse set of partners from across k–12 and higher education to engage in cross-sector conversations about the promise of performance assessments. Throughout the virtual sessions, participants examined trends in k–12 assessments and college admissions, placement, and advising; explored lessons learned from partners in both sectors who are incorporating performance assessment information in various ways; and identified emerging avenues to align high school instruction and assessment systems with college access and success.
LPI’s Linda Darling-Hammond opened the convening by emphasizing the potential of performance-based assessment in supporting deeper student learning and more equitable outcomes in both k–12 and higher education. Then, in a conversation facilitated by Art Coleman from EducationCounsel, Angel Pérez, CEO of National Association for College Admission Counseling, took stock of the growing momentum to reimagine the college admissions process—a preexisting trend accelerated by the pandemic—and how incoming student information can center equity while also informing advising and placement.
Day 1 concluded with a session led by our partners at Complete College America, Charles Ansell and Brandon Protas. They shared draft recommendations from a national task force of k–12 and higher education leaders convened by RCA that explored how k–12 performance assessments can be used to inform college advising and placement, with a focus on increasing success for historically marginalized students. Karla Hardesty, a former Executive Director for Enrollment Management at Adams State University, also highlighted how the Hispanic Serving Institution is already leading in this area.
On Day 2, LPI’s Monica Martinez opened by reviewing takeaways from a pilot through the RCA New England Collaborative, which launched in 2019 with five New England colleges and universities committed to broadening their approaches to admissions decisions by incorporating performance assessments into student admissions applications. LPI’s Aneesha Badrinarayan then led a discussion with Jason Laperriere, Associate Director of Admission at Wheaton College, and Justin Wells, Executive Director of Envision Learning Partners (ELP), about the value of using performance assessment in the admissions process. Jason reflected on Wheaton’s lessons learned from its early RCA pilot, which incorporated performance assessment information. Aneesha highlighted a draft of a new tool, designed over the past year by RCA and based on the experiences of the participating higher education institutions in the RCA pilot. The tool, which was designed with input from higher education admissions staff and k–12 performance assessment experts, aims to help integrate performance assessment information in the admissions process. Justin discussed the partnership between ELP and RCA to design an admissions portal for portfolio submissions that will provide a uniform process for students to submit performance assessment as part of the college admission materials through SlideRoom. An advisory panel consisting of leaders from higher education systems and institutions along with k–12 networks are serving as a design team, with the goal of developing a prototype by 2022.
Participants then engaged in a series of shorter sessions spotlighting various ongoing efforts to reimagine college access and redefine success by RCA partners. Topics included a new effort by Common App and Making Caring Common to create a more equitable and holistic admissions process; a new initiative from the Mastery Transcript Consortium in which schools participated in a competency-based digital transcript as a replacement for the traditional transcript in students’ application process; efforts by the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the City University of New York (CUNY) to incorporate performance assessment information in their admissions decisions; and the Colorado RCA Collaborative’s convening of k–12 and higher education systems to support greater statewide use of performance assessment, in part by leveraging a state high school graduation policy.
The convening allowed a wide array of stakeholders to forge cross-sector connections while receiving updates on “pockets of progress” and the most impactful work in the field. Looking forward, we are working to build on this momentum to develop a strategy to take action at scale.
An article from The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses a recently published study in AERA’s Educational Researcher about the feasibility of admissions lotteries in higher education admissions. Proponents of lotteries say that the process, in which colleges would set minimum eligibility thresholds and then allow chance to determine which students were admitted, could make the admissions process more equitable. But the study found that, despite seeming more fair, lotteries could actually have “dramatic and negative potential effects” on student diversity. Because existing inequities in student performance measures would be baked into the lottery system, the authors conclude, some applicants would still be better poised to be picked than others, undermining the potential for a fairer process.
On November 18, University of California Provost Michael Brown announced that standardized tests will not be considered as part of freshman admissions. An EdSource story reports that leading up to the decision, university leaders had deliberated for 18 months over how and whether to remove testing requirements from admissions to make the process more accessible and equitable. The use of test scores in admissions is also currently suspended at the 23-campus California State University, the state’s other public university system.
In related news, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Standardized Test Score Task Force recently recommended that incoming freshmen in Division I and II sports should no longer be required to meet minimum scores on standardized tests for initial eligibility. “This work reflects the NCAA’s commitment to continually reviewing our academic standards based on the best available data and other relevant information,” said task force chairman David Wilson, President at Morgan State University. "We are observing a national trend in NCAA member schools moving away from requiring standardized test scores for admissions purposes, and this recommendation for athletics eligibility aligns directly with that movement.”
The promise of project-based learning (PBL) is discussed in a recent article from U.S. News & World Report that explored findings from a recently published study by Lucas Education Research. According to the article, the study found that students in classrooms that used PBL significantly outperformed their peers on standardized exams, such as advanced placement (AP) exams or state science tests. The higher scores were seen among both students of color and those from lower-income households, and a related study found similar results for 3rd-graders. Spurred in part by these findings, the College Board launched workshops this summer to train teachers to integrate PBL into their AP classes.
In a recent article, The Washington Post explores how districts are expanding the use of personalized, competency-based education, particularly as schools look for strategies to accelerate learning as students emerge from the pandemic. Competency-based learning allows teachers to track what students have learned, or haven’t learned, in real time, and teachers may use performance assessment in this context to measure students’ progress. Competency-based learning is increasingly being seen as a solution to many of the problems associated with traditional school metrics, like “seat time” and meeting minimal standards in order to advance to the next grade.