Practices that Promote Equity in Basic Skills in California Community Colleges

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From Dialogue to Data

Another method of institutionalizing equity is exemplified by the Startling Statements and Answers developed by Mimi Luftkin, CEO of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity. This strategy examines workforce data and allows participants to examine their own biases. The Startling Statements Exercise was developed to address disparity in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math); the exercise and citation are found in Appendix H.

The use of data to drive thoughtful policy discussions on diversity is also the strategy in Race Matters, a program modeled on the Annie E. Casey website. The structure of the program is summarized below and in the sidebar.

  • Begin by selecting indicators that are structural or systems focused, policy oriented or programmatic. Focus the participants on policy and program change versus individual indicators which may incline participants to reflect on individualistic explanations or their own cultural understandings. Move the participants from their own perspective to a multi-culturally diverse perspective by focusing on the program or system and no
    Reporting Data using a Racial Equity Lens – Annie E. Casey Foundation

    1. Select systems data that is policy oriented.

    2. Focus on policy and program change not individuals.

    3. Frame data as challenges and solutions or closing gaps – don’t have a deficit focus.

    4. Disaggregate all data by carefully considered population relevant to your institution.

    5. Recognize and celebrate cultural diversity and variation. Consider beginning or ending with value-statements.

    6. Bundle potential solutions with problems descriptions.

    7. Choose wording, particularly in visual graphs and tables, carefully; avoid deficit thinking.

    Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race Matters Update #3 p. 7
    individual diversity issues.

  • Begin with structural data to give the overall picture. Consider indicators framed from an assets view – closing the gap aspirations versus problem oriented or deficit-focused (e.g. % getting degrees versus % not achieving degrees).

  • Disaggregate all data by ethnicity to offer context; otherwise readers default to stereotypes. (The level of disaggregation is important – it should be more inclusive than black, white, Asian, Hispanic – but not so extensive that it is mind boggling.)

  • Recognize cultural variation. Be sure the data provides opportunity to examine culturally relevant responses and solutions. Begin or end with widely based value-statements. Be picky about the wording and phrases.

  • Bundle data: Place potential solutions together with problem descriptions.

  • Choose wording carefully; do not use graphs, charts, or terminology that support deficit thinking and judgments.

Finally, framing institutional policy discussions through benchmarking educational outcomes data with other states by using computer modeling is a strategy of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS). Using the computerized modeling to track future trends, the NCHEMS program reveals that “if Hispanics/Latinos, African- Americans, and Native Americans achieved the same levels of education as Whites by 2020, California’s personal income would increase by S101.6 Billion” [in 2000 $ ] (NCHEMS p. 7).

Dealing with Institutional Equity Data to Create Action

Several initiatives have been very successful at addressing equity on an institutional level by developing research committees and directing the research agenda to include issues of equity. Stakeholders help determine research priorities, research plans, provide context, and interpret data. Inherent in these practices is a focus on disaggregating data and considering all student level outcomes by age, gender, ethnicity, and other relevant factors combined with research plans that create actionable data and link to the institutional Student Equity Plan.

Many of the externally mandated research agendas identify easy to measure statistical outcomes that are not always relevant to students or actionable. Actionable data allows analysis and strategies that are integral to and motivate changes in practice. Historical emphasis on overall success or degrees and certificates does not indicate specific interventions or provide direction for action. As we look at these data, we must examine the actual educational goals of the students, particularly students of color, immigrants, and children of immigrants: all historically underserved populations that are over-represented in our basic skills areas. In the research agenda, we must incorporate metrics that are meaningful to the students rather than the simplistic and common values that were the focus of historically non-diverse higher education. An example of this shift of data-focus that incorporates student voices includes considerations such as outcomes in noncredit ESL, which is designed to increase occupational skill attainment, whether the student's overarching aspiration is academic, vocational, or personal. Colleges should create research venues to track appropriate goals and progress by determining institutional data such as student goals on a regular and longitudinal basis in order to find when and where student goals are met besides transfer and degree (e.g. include citizenship, getting a job through ESL, etc). Economic indicators and outcomes, such as wage increases, for students within specific programs should be tracked. Student satisfaction and community interaction should all be considerations for research that would inform significant outcomes allowing changes in practice.

Programmatic Practices that Promote Equity

Program practices that promote equitable outcomes exhibit some key similarities; support services, flexibility, and inviting paradigms. Foremost among these keys to effectiveness is the integration of student support services that provide close touch and guidance for the students. The effective programs exhibit flexibility for students to attain basic skills through unconventional methods such as critical academic skills seminars, directed learning activities, noncredit self-paced opportunities, writing and math supplemental instruction, and other discrete skill-based strategies outside of the regular class schedule. Typically colleges have had a narrow pathway for remediating basic skills needs, which often meant re-taking an entire pre-collegiate course over again. That practice works for some students who are missing the scaffolded learning from K-12, but it is not helpful for those students that are missing pockets of skills or lack discrete academic skills that simply need to be addressed as they progress through courses of interest to them. In addition, when considering diverse student populations, the last message we want to promote is that students are not “college-material” or are lacking so much of the elementary and high school education that they will never progress to courses they are interested in or acquire skills that are meaningful to their future in their own opinion. The Student Senate for California Community Colleges executive committee is very clear on this point. As one senator explained, students do not elect to major in basic skills and sometimes have a difficult time seeing academic development as contributing to their higher education goals.

Effectively addressing basic skills in programs and courses requires a few key factors: valid assessment practices, well-established prerequisites, and clearly defined student pathways with flexibility to address basic skills gaps. Efforts to integrate basic skills acquisition into coursework through real world applications such as contextualized learning in CTE (career technical education), are important factors for both bridging gaps and increasing equitable outcomes for all students (CSS, 2009b). A key feature of effective programs is a hook that makes them engaging to the students and helps the students develop a learner identity, something that may not be common to their cultures or value systems. That inviting paradigm may be a learning community with relationships that are sustained over semesters, or it may be an athletic endeavor or a process that will be time and cost effective for the student. Whatever the method, these strategies are able to reach out with student-centered invitations that connect with today’s students and promote higher rates of success and more equitable outcomes. The ASCCC Basic Skills Effective Practices Database was designed to allow faculty to search the many diverse practices and strategies with proven effectiveness for specific student populations. Examining this treasure chest of practices is valuable. Readers can go to and use the search engine to examine a variety of useful strategies successful in California community colleges. The library will not be replicated here, but a few exemplary programs with strong longitudinal data promoting equitable practices will be highlighted.
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