At Uplift Education, a public charter management organization serving 16,000 scholars Pre-K-12 across the Dallas-Fort Worth region in predominately low-income communities, our scholars, teachers, and administrators have been actively focused on increasing their levels of college readiness. As an example, last school year, our high school seniors averaged a 21.7 on their ACTs, with 47% of graduating seniors performing at or above the college readiness benchmark. As a comparison, 18% of students in the state of Texas score at or above the college readiness benchmark on the ACTs. On average, our juniors increase their ACT scores by 3.3 points, which positions them well for the college application process when they become seniors. This type of growth is not easy to replicate year after year, and we have strong systems we use to drive these levels of achievement:
- Performance Management – we have ambitious goals we set at the scholar, teacher, and school levels to drive ACT performance on each section of that assessment
- Collaboration – Uplift uses Blackboard, a learning management system that is normally seen in colleges or universities, to allow easy access to all high school teachers to resources, checkpoints (short quizzes by college readiness strands) that they can give every other week to their students, and curriculum materials that allow for strong implementation of IB that weaves in ACT aligned skills
- Uplift has custom-built personalized dashboards for teachers that allow them to measure mastery by specific college readiness standards or build groups of scholars needing specific interventions or enrichment. Even though these tools and processes have continued our strong performance over the last three years on the ACT, we all know that college readiness is more than a strong ACT score.
There are some significant challenges facing our scholars on the Road To College. Last year, even though 48% of graduates were accepted to “Colleges that Change Lives” and to other top 100 liberal arts colleges and national research universities, only 19% ended up attending, largely due to financial aid challenges. We also realize that an ACT score of a 21 (at the college readiness benchmark) will not necessarily prepare a college student for a major in the STEM field – as graduates wanting to go into pre-med, engineering, or the sciences would need at minimum a score of a 24. Our college persistence data tells us that 74.6% are persisting year to year, and that Uplift’s six-year graduation rates are 37.3%. The data over the last couple of years forced us to look more broadly at the issues regarding college readiness and completion. Professor David Conley at the University of Oregon authored a comprehensive framework on how educators should approach “college readiness” and his definition is one that we have adopted at Uplift. We have a lot do to in terms of making sure all scholars, especially those who are first generation college students in their families, have the non-cognitive, navigation, and social-emotional learning skills to navigate to and through college, along with a qualifying ACT score.
At Uplift, we made a bold decision – to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at all of our high schools. Our aim is that all 10 of our high school programs are at a place to offer the program to our current freshmen by the time they become juniors. Hence, we have a project team around this initiative that will work with all of our high schools in offering what is largely regarded as the best college preparatory program globally. We felt that this would impact two key data points – first, we felt that the IB Diploma program offered not only rigorous academic curriculum and assessment, but that it reinforced key skills and attributes aligned to this broader definition of college readiness. Second, we wanted to figure out what the “next level” program would be that would not only increase performance on the ACT, but impact college persistence for the long term. There is an amazing piece of research from The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. Students who participate in the DP are more academically prepared for the rigors of a heavy college course load and the corresponding work, have the ability to better manage their time, and are prepared for exam-based grading systems, all of which impact a student’s college persistence. Students who participate in DP, particularly low-income students, have shown persistence rates consistent with the national average for all students and higher than that of their low-income peers. Uplift North Hills and in future years, all of our other eight high schools will offer this program as part of a more rigorous and robust college preparatory program.
The implementation of the IB program across the entire network will be a challenging and exciting journey for Uplift. We’ve already seen strong scholar growth early on which we hope will continue and bring us closer to our big goal of 70% of alumni graduating within six years.