Testimony to the Texas Education Committee on Bridge Project Findings

By Andrea Venezia
Stanford University

Testimony by Andrea Venezia, Director of Stanford University's Bridge Project, to the Texas Senate Education Committee on May 24th, 2000 at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas.
Why is it important to connect K-12 and higher education together more seamlessly?
Nine percent of Latinos and 10 percent of African Americans in Texas attend institutions of higher education in Texas. Thirty-four percent of Latinos, 27 percent of African Americans, and 53 percent of White, non-Latinos graduate from Texas' institutions of higher education. People without a high school diploma will, on average, earn $825,000 over their lifetimes; this figure is $1.2 million for people with a high school diploma and $2.2 million for people with a bachelor's degree. The population of Texas will double between 1990 and 2030 and the largest increase will come from communities of color.
What Stanford University's Bridge Project? Project researchers
1. Describe and analyze high school exit and college entrance policies in regions in six states, including community colleges. RAND is conducting an analysis of whether the assessments used at the high school exit level and college entrance level are asking students to know and be able to do the same things.
2. Interview, survey, and conduct focus groups with students, their parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators in high schools to learn about what those stakeholders know about college admission and placement policies, the TASP, tuition costs, and other factors.
Main questions: What are policy levers at the state and local levels that can be used to create more consistency, or coherence, between the two levels? What are policy levers at the state and local levels that can be used to increase access to higher education and, simultaneously, the quality of the college preparation that students receive? What do K-16 stakeholders say they know and need to know regarding college admission and placement policies?
Texas study: included 110 students and 108 parents in two high school and three junior high schools in Central Texas.

Main issues:
1. The TAAS. The new 11th grade TAAS provides Texas with a great opportunity to integrate K-16 standards more fully. Data from the new assessment could be used as additional information for colleges and universities to use during the admission and placement process. Currently, the higher education community does not pay attention to TAAS scores because it perceives the exam to be too low level. Passing the TAAS does not signal to students that they can necessarily earn a high score on the SAT or ACT, or on individual college placement exams. The RAND report addresses these issues. The students we spoke with are aware of this, but are very confused about how the tests relate to each other. A higher level TAAS test could be the driver for higher level college preparation courses in every high school. In 1997, ACT found that, when compared to other states, a smaller proportion of Texas students take the most challenging courses, yet they report higher grades than do students in other states. Cliff Adelman, a researcher in the US Department of Education, has found that the courses students take in high school are the most important variable when it comes to college success. Finally, the testing burden for college bound students is high; this was perceived to be a barrier by many students, particularly those who were not in honors courses. Between the TAAS, TASP, individual college placement exams, end of course exams, possibly AP exams, individual course exams given by teachers, the PSAT, and the SAT or the ACT, students and K-12 staff feel overwhelmed. Perhaps there is a way to connect the new TAAS and the TASP.
2. The TASP. The purposes, content, and integration of the TASP with other assessments need to be clarified. How will the TASP relate to the new 11th grade assessment? Since TASP scores are not reported to secondary schools, what is its role in the accountability system? Should the TASP be more diagnostic in nature? There are concerns that TASP standards have been lowered over time. The state's K-12 curriculum frameworks and assessments are being aligned well, and standards are being raised. The TASP is not aligned well to the K-12 mechanisms. Fewer than 20 of the students we spoke with, out of the 110 in the study, could define the TASP accurately, and none believed that they could prepare adequately for the exam.
3. K-16 data collection. The state needs to be able to address needs that students and other K-16 stakeholders have regarding the transition to college. To do so, the state must have data on such areas as:
College remediation rates by high school the student graduated from;
AP courses offered by each high school;
The relationship between grades in high school and grades in college; and
College and university completion and transfer rates.
When relevant, these data need to be disaggregated by race/ethnicity. State policymakers should discuss adding K-16 data to the state's accountability system.
4. What students know about college and how they receive information. We found large differences between what students in honors classes knew about college and what students in nonhonors classes knew about college and how students receive information about college. Only about 25 percent of the students surveyed said they had ever talked with a counselor about college. The counselors we interviewed stated that they had too much to do to be able to focus a substantial amount of time on college issues. Perhaps the state should investigate the possibility of funding a college counselor in every high school. The UT and A&M outreach centers are small, but they are a public service that the universities are supporting. There has not been enough research on what is effective in terms of outreach strategies. The state needs to know what is working, and should discuss whether it should fund the development of widespread outreach efforts based on effective practices.
5. High quality curriculum. The state should be applauded for its efforts to make it possible for all students to have access to a high level sequence of courses (the Recommended Program), and the Texas Scholars Program offers a very good incentive program for students to take the Recommended sequence. The state needs to continue its work to ensure that all students have access to high level courses (such as AP and IB courses), so that all students will be adequately prepared for post-high school life.
6. Institutional center for K-16 reform. In order for K-16 reforms to be developed and implemented, there needs to be a body that is accountable for K-16 reforms an institutional center for these reforms. The Education Trust has been involved in discussions about these issues here, and there are a lot of local and regional partnerships. I hope the work can become more widespread and less fragmented.

Thank you and good luck with your excellent work.