Bridge Project: About the Bridge Project


About the Bridge Project


The Problem The Research Improving
Policy and Practice
Reports and Publications

The Bridge Project: Strengthening K-16 Transition Policies
builds on the view that reforms affecting K-12 and higher education must occur across systems in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Reforms developed in isolation from each other can lead to mismatched policy objectives and send confusing messages to education stakeholders. The overarching purpose of the project is to improve opportunities for all students to enter and succeed in higher education by strengthening the alignment between higher education admissions-relate requirements and K-12 curriculum frameworks, standards, and assessments. Our research will help educational institutions and federal, state, and local agencies accomplish this goal by providing a descriptive analysis of the policies as well as disjunctures that exist in the current policy environment, and a detailed analysis of ways to improve the current system. Toward this end, we will formulate both short- and long-term policy and practice recommendations.

To ensure that the project is both comprehensive and coordinated–to provide the most accurate and complete picture of the dynamics between K-12 and higher education in terms of the undergraduate admissions process–our research will:

  • Focus on three understudied but essential components of the K-16 system–admissions policies, freshman placement or advising policies in community colleges and four-year public universities, and curriculum content and assessment standards in K-12 systems.
  • Examine regions in six states–California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, and Texas–to understand the dynamics within each state and to offer a comparative framework among states.
  • Focus on ways to improve the delivery of information and policy signals for all students.
  • Include analyses of emerging reforms, such as the Proficiency-Based Admission Standards System (PASS) in Oregon, the development of P-16 councils in Georgia and Maryland, and policy reactions to changes in affirmative action policies in California and Texas.
  • Include stakeholders' perspectives from all aspects of the K-16 system: students; parents; and educators and researchers at state agencies, higher education institutions, school districts, and high schools.
  • Formulate policy recommendations and a self-study protocol that other researchers, educators, and policymakers can use to assess such K-16 linkages in their own state

The Problem

While educators and policymakers share the common goal of improving student performance, they often act in isolation; thus, efforts are sometimes conflicting or duplicated, and often certain needs are never addressed. This is not the fault of a particular set of people or institutions. Rather, the current organization of secondary schools and universities is such that communication between levels is often difficult, if not impossible. Reform initiatives at different levels within the entire K-16 education system must be better integrated or the whole mission of increasing opportunities for all students for higher education could veer dangerously off course.

The lack of compatibility between K-12 and higher education policies and practices causes many problems. For example, in 1995, nearly all U.S. public two-year institutions and 81 percent of public four-year institutions offered remedial courses; in the fall of 1995, 29 percent of the nation's first-time college students enrolled in at least one remedial reading, writing, or mathematics course. Community Colleges across the country are increasing their developmental education course offerings. These statistics point to a possible disjuncture between K-12 and higher education. If K-12 educators, students, and parents had a better understanding of what students should know and be able to do to enter college, remediation rates might be lower. For instance, in the southeastern U.S., there are nearly 125 combinations of 75 different placement tests, oftentimes devised by university departments without enough regard to secondary school standards. Entering first-year students know little about the content of these exams; this could lead to poor scores on placement exams and the need for remediation. This lack of compatibility creates problems for students, such as increased costs and length of stay in undergraduate programs. It increases costs and administrative burdens for institutions of higher education as well. This situation is particularly troubling for traditionally underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students because they often do not have family members who are familiar with higher education, and often lack the resources needed to hire private counselors and tutors to help them successfully navigate the K-16 transition .

Thus, the current array of policies sends vague and confusing signals to students about what is required to succeed at colleges and universities. Moreover, a lack of compatibility between assessment mechanisms could be a major problem for students who attend high schools that stress performance assessments, portfolios, and problem solving. When those students enter college, they are often faced with more traditional forms of teaching and learning such as standardized multiple choice tests and lectures.

The Research

The research conducted for the project will focus on policies, perceptions, and practices relating to the transition of students from secondary to higher education. The project is composed of three phases, which incorporate a series of research methodologies, including interviews, focus groups, document review, and surveys:

  • Phase I. In an effort to understand current higher education preparation practices in secondary schools and disjunctures between college admissions-related policies and K-12 reforms, this phase provides a comparative analysis of K-16 policies and practices in regions within six states: California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, and Texas. Phase I seeks to answer the following main research questions: What are the formal and informal state and higher education institutional K-16 policies and practices in each of the six states? How compatible are the K-16 standards and assessments in terms of their content, objectives, and specifications? In seeking to answer these questions, Phase I research will complete an analysis of the signals and incentives sent by existing K-16 policies as well as an analytical matching of state and institutional content, performance, and assessment standards. This phase includes research with community colleges, focusing on issues related to matriculation, placement, articulation, transfer, K-16 policy development and implementation, and K-16 data collection and usage.
  • Phase II. This phase seeks to understand how higher education admissions standards and placement policies are communicated to, and interpreted by, secondary school-level educators, parents, and students in each of the six states. It also provides analyses of differences in the K-16 policy-related communication processes utilized by, and the consequent understandings of, different student subgroups, and differences between student subgroups in terms of their aspirations and college knowledge.
  • Phase III. To help reconceptualize existing policies and propose new policies, the project will produce 1) a set of short- and long-term policy recommendations and 2) an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed policy recommendations.

Another main component of the Bridge Project's research is an analysis of the alignment among assessment instruments at the secondary and postsecondary levels, currently being conducted by researchers at the RAND Corporation.


Contributions to Improved Policies and Practices

In order to improve current K-16 policies and practices, the project's research and outreach agenda will:

  • Expand knowledge and research about the linkages between K-12 and higher education, focusing on undergraduate admissions-related policies and practices.
  • Evaluate and analyze recent large-scale changes in university admissions and placement policies within a comparative framework.
  • Explore the potential impact of new concepts such as performance assessment in undergraduate admissions.
  • Conduct a six-state comparison of K-16 standards currently used for secondary and university curriculum standards and assessments to uncover inconsistencies that generate confusing signals for students.
  • Create a forum for researchers and practitioners to share ideas, discuss policy options, and identify priorities for further research.
  • Convene and lead local, state, and national discussions to rethink current policies and practices and formulate recommendations for specific national, state, local, and institutional contexts.
  • Convene discussions with local educators on issues of early outreach, tracking, and other equity-based policies geared to recruit and prepare traditionally underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students.
  • Provide a protocol or template for states to replicate our analysis and to prepare a self-assessment of their own K-16 policy environment.

Our outreach and dissemination agenda is designed to inform a variety of audiences, including K-16 researchers and policymakers; K-12 and postsecondary administrators, counselors, and teachers; and parents and students. This agenda will be accomplished through coordinated outreach activities and a series of publications. In addition to collaboration with local, state, and national agencies, a Research Forum will bring education researchers together on a regular basis. A continuously updated Internet website will make our research findings and publications widely available and accessible, and will allow for greater communication and feedback with our target audiences.