Friday, January 25, 2013

Student achievement, Common Core, and online education discussed

Over the last few days, CTCs have presented before committees in both the House and Senate about the Student Achievement Initiative, Common Core, and our system’s approach to online education. These work sessions continue to provide information for new committee members as policy and budget discussions continue.

Student Achievement Initiative on stage at work session

Jan Yoshiwara, SBCTC deputy director for education, and Tom Nielsen, Bellevue College vice president of instruction, highlighted the community and technical college system’s nationally recognized Student Achievement Initiative (SAI) during a Senate Higher Education Committee work session on Tuesday.
Under SAI — the system’s performance-based funding approach — colleges earn a portion of their funding based on results, not just enrollments. Points — and funding — are awarded when students reach key academic achievement points that propel them toward certificates, degrees and transfers. Examples include finishing 15 college credits and then 30 college credits, and completing college-level math.
Yoshiwara said the number of degrees and certificates completed at Washington’s community and technical colleges increased by 46 percent between 2007 and 2012.
However, the overall growth in completions slowed in 2011-2012 as budget cuts caused colleges to close sections and programs. “If we can keep students enrolled — if we can keep access to the courses and degree programs that students need and want — they will achieve,” she said.
Nielsen shed light on the initiative’s key goals:
Ÿ Reflect the diverse communities served by community and technical colleges
Ÿ Make measurements simple, understandable and meaningful
Ÿ Use information to develop effective projects to help students progress, regardless of where they started
Ÿ Move students through institutions further and faster
Nielsen pointed out that in 2014, additional momentum points will be built into the initiative to put greater emphasis on student retention and completion.
The changes will also ensure that colleges have a fair opportunity to earn awards regardless of college characteristics.
“We worked on the metrics and the award methods so that we would maximize the points earned by conscious effort … and minimize points that might have been earned by inherent characteristics of the colleges, like size or enrollment growth…,” he said.
Yoshiwara and Nielsen both explained that new money from the Legislature — as opposed to budget provisos carved out of the system’s budget — provides the greatest incentive for colleges.

National standards at core of discussion

On Thursday the House Education Committee held a work session on the national Common Core State Standards – rigorous new math and English standards adopted by Washington and 45 other states.
The standards create a consistent, clear set of academic benchmarks to prepare all students for college or work, regardless of where they live. In the past, it’s been up to each state to decide what students should learn and when. As a result, students in the same grade may learn vastly different topics from state to state.
Washington is also a member of the “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium,” a 25-state group that is developing assessments to find out whether students are actually meeting the standards. The assessment will use a computer adaptive test, meaning each question is chosen based on how well the student has done so far; the computer “learns” along with the students to find out where they land on a learning scale. The key assessment will take place in 11th grade so students still have a year to catch up, maintain, or boost their knowledge.
“It will be a bright line…for 11th graders,” explained Joe Willhoft, the consortium’s executive director. “If (students) meet that standard in English, they can move directly into (college) credit-bearing English courses, and if they meet it in mathematics, they can enter into credit-bearing courses in mathematics.
But will colleges also find those assessments accurate and use them as a tool?
Bill Moore, SBCTC director of Core-to-College alignment, said Washington is helping to answer that question. Washington is one of ten states that will serve as a national model for implementing Common Core State Standards using a competitive grant provided by the Lumina Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Through the project, two-year and four-year colleges are taking a “deep” look at the standards to determine whether they make sense and reflect readiness from a college perspective, said Moore.
The project will also involve:
Ÿ Developing an overall agreement for how to use the common core standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment, specifically the 11th grade test. “That’s where the rubber hits the road,” Moore said.
Ÿ Developing local partnerships with high schools and colleges at the local level on assessment-driven college placements and on easing the transition between high school and college.

Link to testimony on TVW.

Online education in the spotlight

Connie Broughton, SBCTC director of eLearning and open education, and Renee Carney, Lower Columbia College director of eLearning, presented during a Senate Higher Education Committee work session on Thursday about online education in public two-year and four-year institutions of higher education.
Broughton described how the SBCTC Strategic Technology Plan underpins the system’s efforts to use technology to improve teaching and learning with three basic tenets:
Ÿ Buy, don’t build.
Ÿ Negotiate single system contracts that can be locally managed.
Ÿ Provide access and professional development to all students, faculty, and staff.
“Instead of trying to build [write software applications, code and programming], we negotiate single system contracts,” she said. “This has provided us with tremendous savings. The campuses are then able to decide locally how to use and implement the tools.”
She explained that while it’s important to have the tools, it’s imperative to provide professional development and user support for faculty, students, and staff who are to implement and use the technology.
“We are improving teaching and learning,” she said. “Not just increasing access to technology.”
Broughton highlighted several of the system’s key technology initiatives:
Ÿ Learning management system (Canvas)
Ÿ Ability to pool enrollments (WAOL)
Ÿ Lecture capture system (Tegrity)
Ÿ Web conferencing (Collaborate)
Ÿ 24/7 research librarians (askwa)
Ÿ 24/7 eTutoring (Western eTutoring Consortium)
Ÿ Open education resources (Open Course Library - OCL)
“To date, the Open Course Library has saved students an estimated $5 million in textbook costs,” Broughton said, describing how a typical math textbook costs $140 to $180. “Students enrolled in an OCL class can save about $100 per course on textbooks.”
Carney gave the committee an overview of Canvas, the new learning management system selected by the community and technical colleges to enable all electronic modes (eModalities) of teaching and learning.
SBCTC signed the Canvas contract last July after a rigorous RFP process. With the Canvas contract available to all public higher education institution, the colleges enjoy not only favorable costs, but also access to shared programming and professional development.
Carney described the substantial cost savings realized by Lower Columbia College.
LCC had an independent contract with Canvas which cost about $62,000 annually. After joining the shared Canvas contract, their costs dropped to about $23,500 annually; a savings of about $38,500 per year.
SBCTC eLearning is in the process of planning and facilitating the migration of each college. To date, four of the thirty-four colleges have made a full migration and another 27 are at different stages in the process.
In addition to the CTCs, six of the four-year public universities are taking advantage of the shared contract: University of Washington, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, Central Washington University, Washington State University Spokane, and The Evergreen State College.
Committee chair Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, asked Carney how comfortable the older students are with technology, given the older demographic of CTC students.
Carney said digital literacy is a consideration for all students, regardless of age.
“While some of the younger generation of students is very comfortable with social media, they aren’t necessarily proficient at using technology in an academic setting,” she said, describing the digital technology orientations and boot camps available for all students.