• Coppell Graduates are College Ready!

    Coppell Independent School District was recently highlighted in The Dallas Morning News (DMN) article analyzing the college readiness of area high school graduates. According to the article, “Texas defines college-ready graduates as those who scored high enough on the SAT or the ACT college entrance exams or on the 11th grade TAKS tests (in reading and math).” Compared within a group of 34 similar public high schools in the Dallas/Fort Worth-Metroplex (all of low poverty) the results put Coppell at the top of the list. Using the most current data (from 2009), only two of those public high schools (excluding North Hills Prep) scored above the 80th percentile in college ready preparedness. Coppell High School (CHS) in CISD was one of the two.

    College readiness is an intentional goal of the Coppell ISD. As a result of the changes implemented through the district’s first Strategic Plan (in 2003) and the collaborative efforts of the central office, campus administration, and classroom teachers, the tough decisions made regarding curriculum and best practices- along with the hard work from the staff to prepare students -is paying off.

    According to Director of School Improvement and Assessment, Dr. Mechelle Bryson, “CISD believes in a comprehensive approach to early post-secondary planning. We have challenged all elementary and secondary campuses to create a strong culture of post-secondary success for all students that expands the 20th century views of post-secondary education and that creates a new vision for our 21st century learners.”

    If college readiness starts before high school, how are the high expectations for instructors teaching at the lower grade levels established? This is precisely the “challenge,” Dr. Bryson previously referenced. In the elementary and middle years, recognizing the importance of building a strong foundation of learning (by continually engaging students in stimulating and rigorous lessons) helps early educators face that challenge head-on. One such example is the way teachers have increased rigor and critical thinking by incorporating more non-fiction books into their classrooms as well as expanding the non-fiction collection available in their campus libraries. To comprehend non-fiction text, a student must learn how to break down the text for understanding and application. Using non-fiction text during guided reading allows students to become proficient in identifying vital information and then provides opportunities for students to summarize their comprehension while making text-to-world connections. Did this decision require some out-of-the-box thinking? Yes. Was the idea widely supported at first? No. Is it a best practice that benefits ALL students and supports college readiness? Absolutely!

    “Children are naturally curious about the world around them, and using non-fiction text in the classroom engages them in their quest for knowledge while providing instruction and practice at rigorous levels of comprehension,” says former Town Center Elementary teacher and current Assistant Principal, Ms. Shannon Edwards.

    College readiness at the secondary level has been an equally deliberate effort on the part of Coppell ISD. The district has adopted a philosophy that allows students to customize their learning experiences by encouraging them to enroll in a variety of challenging courses. During the 2005-2006 school year, CISD made the decision to open the enrollment in Pre Advanced Placement (Pre AP) and Advanced Placement (AP) courses to all students in grades six - twelve. The opportunity to take more rigorous courses, starting in middle school, has resulted in increased participation (more students taking more courses was up by approximately 50% from 2005-06 to 2009) and a steady increase in math and science TAKS scores for All Students from 2005-2009 (91% - 95% and 87% - 94%, respectively). Was this decision easy to make? No. Was it publicly embraced? No. Has it been a good decision or ALL leaners in furthering their college readiness? You bet it has!

    “As a district, we made some strategic decisions to help emphasize college readiness. We included college readiness standards in the curriculum of core classes at middle school and high school. Instructional changes which require more complex thinking, expository writing, critical or close reading, and problem solving are not easy changes, but the reward of that hard work is when our students leave our schools better prepared for the opportunities that lie ahead,” stated Director of Advanced Academics, Mr. Todd Kettler.

    College readiness in the high schools looks very different now than it did eight years ago. Technology has played an important role in the district’s educational evolution but, over time CISD has also invested in something that transcends the physicality of software and hardware – relationships. The district has developed and maintained many important partnerships, but one of significant impact on students and their families is with the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD). The tremendous participation and high achievement of learners enrolled in CISD’s Dual Credit and Senior Scholars programs is a testament to the success and viability of that partnership. Through the DCCCD, the 2008-09 graduating class of students at CHS earned a combined total of 8,336 college hours while in high school thereby saving their parents over $4,575,000. Courses outlined within those programs are now available to students enrolled at both New Tech High @ Coppell and CHS. When the AP hours earned in that same time period are included, the numbers are even more staggering: CISD parents saved over $2,751,500 while their children earned a total of 5,012 AP hours of college course credits. Offering a variety of choices for learners has become the mantra of the district over the past few years starting at the high school level, extending down through the middle schools, and now to the elementary campuses where students can begin to explore their interests through the lens of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and by pursuing such pathways as Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM). Teachers at all grade levels in CISD provide numerous learning experiences for students in an effort to help them build their academic capacity and stamina. Were any of those decisions easy? No. Were the decisions fraught with frustration and angst? Yes. Did they result in graduates who were better prepared to transition into college and continue to be academically successful? Most certainly!

    CHS teacher, Mrs. Kim Pearce, believes, “Whether students in CISD decide to attend college immediately after graduation or delay for a year or more, they can be assured they are ready to meet the demands of higher education.”

    It is essential that elementary teachers understand and are prepared for the critical role they play in college readiness. Their responsibility in that effort is equally important to that of a middle school teacher or one at the high school level whose senior students may be in the midst of completing their college applications. How do teachers learn to carefully and strategically navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of educating parents, transforming a classroom, reinventing themselves, and meeting the individual needs of each learner? There are a number of methods used in Coppell ISD including: attending conferences, reading educational publications, performing research, compiling and analyzing data, and participating in professional learning communities. Were any of these methods a painless, quick “fix” for teachers? No. They continue to require much thought, research, collaboration, planning, and time. Were they readily accepted? Not at first. Have staff and students ultimately benefitted? You bet! In CISD, campus leadership, teachers, and support personnel all take part in their own learning…professional learning…always seeking new and better ways to grow and improve their craft. A few of the most popular opportunities offered to CISD staff members in recent years have been those that helped them: 1) glean the very best practices for student engagement, 2) learn what rigorous course work “looks” like in the classroom, and 3) teach students how to effectively develop and utilize their critical thinking skills.

    “It is wonderful to work in a school district where teachers, administrators, and counselors work as a team to provide a comprehensive guidance program that emphasizes career and college readiness through a multitude of programs,” stated Coppell High School Lead Counselor, Mrs. Debbie Fruithandler.

    Although the DMN statistics speak favorably of the work being done in Coppell ISD, the school district has refused to become complacent about college readiness by resting on past laurels. The school community can be assured that, in the financially-troubling times ahead, the district will continue the passionate pursuit of educational excellence for ALL students which will propel them to even greater heights in their future. Will those decisions along the road be easy? Probably not. Will they be accepted by the masses? Unlikely. Will they be purposeful and in the best interests of ALL learners? Count on it!