RCA Newsletter: September 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 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 student 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, national trends in college admissions, and news on RCA Network members and other partners seeking to reimagine college access and success.
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The RCA New England Learning Community closed out a year of collaborative work with k–12 and higher education leaders. Meetings focused on how institutions and secondary schools can prepare to reshape the college admissions process in order to advance equity and college success. The community identified a set of transferable skills linked to success in college and then engaged in design work focused on this question: How might the admissions process capture evidence of these college-ready skills? The community will reconvene in January 2022 to discuss possible strategies to advance these ideas.
The RCA Colorado Learning Community is working closely with Adams State University on a pilot project focused on incorporating performance assessments into the university’s advising process. As a long-standing participant in RCA, Adams State is working alongside k–12 participants in the learning community to understand what skills Colorado students are developing in high school and how their portfolios and capstone projects can yield information that is helpful to the college advising process. This work will help inform the learning community and other institutions of higher education that are interested in using k–12 performance assessment information in their decision-making processes.
RCA Network members are also working together on national efforts to support regional teams and pave the way for wider use of performance assessments in higher education decision-making. For example, with the support of a collaboratory consisting of higher education and k–12 practitioners, RCA is developing a suite of resources designed to help college admissions officers better understand the parameters and features of k–12 performance assessment systems and to design an effective “ask” in their applications to yield the type of student information they want to incorporate into their admissions processes. In addition to the collaboratory, RCA formed a strategic alliance with Complete College America to launch a task force that will examine the promise and challenges related to incorporating student performance assessment information into higher education’s placement and advising processes. More information about these projects will be shared in future newsletters and RCA convenings.
A recent Higher Ed Dive article explores the ways test-optional policies have and have not reduced the reliance on high-stakes test scores for college admissions. The pandemic led to an increase in test-optional policies at colleges and universities across the nation, and many are choosing to keep those policies in place in 2022 and beyond. At the same time, many institutions are seeing large increases in applications. However, experts caution that the cause of soaring rates is not yet clear and will need to be researched.
In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal shares three ideas for replacing college admissions tests: (1) using an admissions lottery, (2) relying more heavily on high school grade point average, or (3) finding a different test, such as the Smarter Balanced Assessments. The article also shares the potential benefits and drawbacks of each approach.
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The promise of project-based learning (PBL) is discussed in a recent news article from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education highlighting a new book about the topic. According to the article, PBL is growing in popularity across the country, and public schools are introducing new requirements to ensure students have access to PBL experiences. While affluent students typically have greater access to deeper learning experiences, including performance assessments, the article explains that PBL could be a key lever for advancing equity across k–12 schools.
RCA Network Research & Resources
New Report on Equitable Admissions Policies
A new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy examines eight admissions practices—including recruitment, demonstrated interest policies, and the role of standardized tests—and the need to rethink them to create more equitable systems. The report provides extensive disaggregated findings on student access and opportunity in the college admission process and points to approaches that can improve college access and opportunity for underrepresented students and students from low-income backgrounds.
Comprehensive Learner Record Phase II Report
The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers recently released a report on Phase II of its Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) pilots. The CLR houses information about student learning experiences—whether those experiences occur in or out of school—helping students maintain a record throughout their education. This phase of the pilot aimed to address previous challenges related to technology and bring 150 colleges and universities into the work.
Common App Launches 2021–22 App Aimed at Expanding Inclusion
The Common App, which enables more than 1 million students every year to apply to more than 950 colleges and universities around the world, launched its new application on August 1. According to Common App, the new application “includes updated questions and tools designed to both expand access and facilitate a more equitable, inclusive college application process.” Major changes to the application include the removal of questions related to school discipline, military discharge, and religious preference and the revision of questions related to citizenship, family, geography, and sex and gender. A new essay prompt was also added to the application that is “inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness.”
New White Paper on the State of Project-Based Learning (PBL)
PBLWorks, an organization that supports school and system leaders in implementing PBL, released a new white paper that describes findings on PBL’s value, impact, and future, according to educators. The paper finds that the majority of the over 11,000 teachers who responded said their students would benefit from PBL experiences in school. This paper provides new evidence of the growing momentum toward more project-based, engaging, and authentic learning experiences for students.