Tierney and Garcia on the Early Assessment Program

Jan 26th, 2011

Tierney and Garcia on the Early Assessment Program

By: David N Plank | 11:01 AM | Categories: Assessment & Accountability

Bill Tierney and Lisa Garcia have a new article on-line that reviews the findings and implications of their study of Early Assessment Program (EAP) implementation in Los Angeles.  (The study can be found here; for background information click here as well).  Their findings are almost uniformly negative.  The students who participated in their focus groups or responded to their survey know almost nothing about the EAP, and their high school teachers and counselors do not know much more.  The students do not understand the consequences of placement into remedial coursework in post-secondary education, and the courses that CSU has designed that might prepare them to avoid this fate are not available in their schools. 
Tierney and Garcia conclude that “no one took any action that they would not have taken in their senior year even if the EAP did not exist,” with the obvious corollary that the EAP had no impact on the likelihood that students would be placed into remedial classes when they enrolled in college.  They state that “the best way to provide support is to provide it, rather than to provide information that [students] may never receive or comprehend.”
The discovery that EAP is not affecting the behavior of educators or students in schools where it has not been implemented is hardly surprising, but it begs rather than answers some key policy questions.
The first of these concerns the role of information in student decision-making, and in the education system more generally.  No one is likely to dissent from the authors’ conclusion that producing information that students neither receive nor comprehend is a poor use of scarce resources.  At the same time, though, it’s quite possible and perhaps even likely that telling students whether or not they are ready for college-level coursework while there is still time to do something about it will have a positive effect on their behavior and their academic success.  This was the hypothesis that guided the development of the EAP, and the data produced by Tierney and Garcia offer no useful insight on whether or not the hypothesis is correct.
The second question has to do with EAP implementation.  The authors are right to point out that the EAP has received more praise that it deserves, given meager (but nevertheless real) evidence of positive program impact.  This hardly justifies a death sentence, though.  Instead, it poses a choice for policy-makers:  should they seek to strengthen the implementation of the EAP, or abandon it in favor of something else?  This is a critical question, not only in California but nationally, as two multi-state consortia seek to build something like EAP into a new national assessment system.  Tierney and Garcia’s hostility to EAP may or may not be justified, but their study provides no basis for judgment one way or the other.


In addition to David's thoughtful comments, I would add that a signficant challenge for the EAP itself is the nearly uniform passive integration of it into the K-12 system. For many reasons--again as David suggests, these reasons are pragmatic and politically astute--EAP was purposefully added on to the existing standards-based accountability system. If EAP had been used as the "destination" for K-12 students and K-12 educators, we might indeed be having a different conversation.

The inherent tension that EAP brings to the fore in California educaiton policy is: how much reform is necessary for change?" As the California Diploma Project dealt with this issue, we looked across a landscape of failed comprehensive reform efforts. No matter how grand, eloquent, and comprehensive, Getting Down to Facts, the GCEE Report, "Students First," and the Superintendent's P-16 Council Report all reached dust-collecting status because of their scope and vision. The strength of EAP--which the study correctly points out is also an underlying weakness of overall policy design in California's K-12 system--is that it is NOT a comprehensive redesign of standards, assessments, courses, graduation requirements, etc.

The potential, therefore, for the new Common Core standards and assessments to do the job that EAP on its own has not been able to do, is enormous. Namely, California may see a system that is purposefully designed to produce and be defined by college and career readiness. That's the change we need.