RCA Newsletter: March 2021
The Reimagining College Access (RCA) initiative is a groundbreaking national effort to advance the use of performance assessments in k–12 education that can also support more holistic and equitable approaches to higher education admissions, placement, and advising decisions. The approach is intended to increase college access by expanding and deepening information about students’ preparedness for higher education. The initiative, hosted by the Learning Policy Institute and EducationCounsel, brings together a diverse group of k–12 and higher education policy and practice leaders engaged in the research and implementation of authentic and holistic ways of assessing 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, and as well as about national trends in college admissions.
Throughout the fall and winter 2020, k–12 and higher education representatives continued to explore the use of performance assessment through two RCA regional collaboratives—one in New England and one in Colorado. The RCA New England Collaborative launched a series of learning community meetings in fall 2020. With the support of Great Schools Partnership, these meetings have established a network of k–12 and higher education leaders, regional education leaders, and state education agencies interested in using performance assessment in ways that promote holistic admissions and equitable admissions processes. The RCA New England Collaborative has met three times and will continue to convene virtually for regular meetings as it considers opportunities to codevelop plans that advance a shared vision.
After a brief hiatus due to COVID-19, the RCA Colorado Collaborative reconvened virtually in fall 2020 and has met regularly since to discuss opportunities for expanding the use of high-quality performance assessments in k–12 education and for informing higher education admissions, placement, and advising decisions. These four meetings have helped participants gain a deeper understanding of the Colorado Essential Skills and how to build trust across k–12 and higher education systems.
As the work in New England and Colorado continues, RCA is working with an advisory group to plan for and design an RCA California Collaborative. This Collaborative hopes to build on recent progress in the state, such as changes to University of California admissions policies and the increasing number of strong k–12 school networks that use performance assessment.
After Dropping SAT and ACT, University of California Urged Not to Add New Admissions Test
In a unanimous vote on May 21, 2020, the University of California approved a motion to gradually phase out standardized testing as an application requirement to its system, with complete elimination aimed for 2025. Following the decision, a working group was convened to explore whether it was possible to modify or create a new test that better aligns with the academic content UC expects applicants to have learned, or to eliminate the testing requirement altogether. EdSource reports on the group’s recommendations.
Why the University of California Is Seeing a Massive Surge in Freshman Applications
Freshman applications to the University of California surged this year, a trend, says EdSource, that college access advocates hope will translate into higher enrollments of low-income, Black, Latino, and other underrepresented students across the university’s nine undergraduate campuses. Experts attribute the increases partially to the elimination of the SAT and ACT as an admission requirement, saying more students likely felt optimistic about their chances of being accepted without having to submit a test score.
Will COVID Wipe Out Standardized College Testing?
The advent of COVID has spurred new thinking about the college admissions process that may well prompt permanent changes. Fortune.com reporter Carolyn Barber, who interviewed a wide range of admissions officials, notes that, "At a time when even setting up an SAT or ACT standardized test appointment has been and continues to be at times impossible, the idea of incorporating such test results into the process is rapidly losing steam. It could be a forever trend—a massive change in the way colleges do business.”
If You Could Reform Admissions…
Inside Higher Education editor Scott Jaschik reports on the work of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), which has created a commission to rethink the entire admissions process through a racial equity lens. NACAC has identified three priority areas for the commission:
- The college-entrance pipeline, from student recruitment and college advising through the application process and admission criteria.
- Postsecondary financial aid requirements.
- The role of racial equity in postsecondary enrollment.
The commission will release three reports by this summer: a guide for colleges centered on racial/ethnic inclusion, a related guide for postsecondary institutional leaders, and recommendations for federal and state policy makers for an equity-based college transition.
RCA Network Research & Resources
Below is a roundup of recent, helpful research and resources relevant to the RCA initiative’s work and goals:
- The National College Attainment Network (NCAN), a membership organization that has been working to advance equity in postsecondary access and attainment for over two decades, has numerous resources for districts and schools. This includes a newly updated College and Career Readiness Calendar to support students, a library of FAFSA completion resources, and a brief of promising practices used by five districts across the country. NCAN also connects to other resources from the field, including the National Student Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker and OneGoal’s Postsecondary Readiness Rubrics.
- Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) recently released its year in review, which highlights its work helping colleges shift their admissions practices. In the review, MTC links to its report from the 2019–20 school year that includes stories from students about their experiences with the Mastery Transcript and college admittance.
- Hack the Gates, an organization that partners with the Race and Intersectional Studies in Educational Equity (RISE) Center and the Admissions Community Cultivating Equity & Peace Today (ACCEPT), has released a set of policy papers that present and consider systemic changes and solutions to improve college access for low-income students and students of color. Topics include test-optional admissions and state-level efforts to reimagine college admissions.
- Researchers from the City University of New York (CUNY) and the Learning Policy Institute released Assessing College Readiness Through Authentic Student Work, a report that highlights early results of a college admissions pilot. This pilot program uses performance assessment from high school students who attend schools that are part of the New York Performance Consortium and who do not meet the minimum scores for college entrance exams. The results indicate positive outcomes for students admitted to CUNY through the pilot. On average, they achieve higher first-semester college GPAs, earn more initial credits, and persist in college after the first year at higher rates than peers from other New York City schools, who, on average, have higher SAT scores.
Engaging the RCA Network
Survey—We Want to Hear From You
As the RCA Network continues to expand, we are interested in hearing more from our community about how we can support the use of performance assessments in k–12 education and help develop more holistic and equitable admissions, placement, and advising practices in higher education. We welcome it all: a promising practice you’ve heard about to reimagine college access and success; potential opportunities you see in the field that are disrupting college admissions, advising, or placement; foundational research to advance this work; resources or events from your organization we can highlight in this newsletter; or other recommendations you have about the RCA Network and initiative. If you have anything you would like to share, you can use this brief form or reach out via email at [email protected].