Living the Mission: College Readiness and Access
APS pathway starts with early childhood education and includes such signposts as Georgia Milestones results, graduation rates and college entrance exam data
With a focus on graduating students for college and career readiness, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) has received quite a bit of positive news over recent weeks that indicates the district has not only been living, but actualizing, its mission: With a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every students will graduate ready for college and career.
When we look at getting our students ready for college, we consider three critical hurdles:
- Our students must register and take college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT.
- They must secure the necessary financial resources for college, which might include determining their eligibility for student financial aid
- They must actually graduate from high school!
But it is a process that goes back much further and actually starts with our youngest learners, such as reading to our pre-kindergarten students. This week we are amid Georgia Pre-K Week when our stakeholders are encouraged to visit Pre-K classrooms and read to students. I cannot say enough about the value of early childhood learning and literacy in the future successes of our children.
We continue to track progress throughout the grades. This summer, we received the official results from the Georgia Milestones, and I wrote extensively about our results here.
- Fifty‐seven (57) schools achieved gains when averaged across subject areas (17 more schools than those achieving gains last year).
- The largest gain for students in grades 3‐8 was in mathematics, where students achieved a 2.8 percentage point gain
- More than 2/3 of the students scored Developing and above in American Literature and Ninth Grade Literature
- Fifteen of the 16 schools that received the deepest level of supports through our Turnaround Strategy achieved gains across all subject areas.
And this leads up to our college readiness and access data. Let me take you through each to show how we are making progress.
Much of the progress is definitely due to Achieve Atlanta, our partner with a mission to provide college advisement and financial assistance for college-bound students. They have reported that more than 80% of Cohort 2017 seniors registered for SAT/ACT/ACCUPLACER, which is a 28% increase over last year. They found that 61% of APS seniors last year applied to three or more colleges, which is a 27% increase, and 61% of seniors completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), up 10 percentage points from the previous year.
These numbers are positive signs that major barriers prohibiting students from college access are being removed. But it’s not just about taking exams and completing forms. We have more students scoring at levels that indicate they are ready for college success.
Let’s look first at the SAT – one of the standardized tests widely used for college admissions, which has a point scale ranging from 400 to 1,600. The College Board, which administers the test, recently redesigned the test, so our latest scores will serve as a baseline for the future. But we found that 60 percent of our students achieved high enough scores to be deemed “college ready” in “evidence-based” reading and writing. Although our students performed lower than state averages, our students did better than the national mean in their sub-groups. African- American graduates from Cohort 2017 outperformed the national mean by 9 points, and Hispanic students outperformed the national mean by 17 points in reading and writing.
On the ACT – another standardized college readiness assessment, the number of students taking the ACT continued to rise. For APS, the average APS score increased across all subject areas when compared to last year as well as when looking at the five-year trend. APS students continue to underperform on the ACT when compared to the state, but progress is being made. The gap between APS and state performance at the composite level decreased from 3.1 points in 2013 to 2.4 points in 2017. Gaps persist across race/ethnicity groups within APS. While black, Hispanic, and white students have all achieved gains in mean composite scores over the past five years, the gap between white and black students increased from 7.5 in 2013 to 9.2 in 2017.
And, of course, students can’t have access to college and career opportunities if they don’t graduate from high school.
With a 77. 0 percent graduation rate, Cohort 2017 achieved a new district high, as recently reported by the Georgia Department of Education. Additionally, the cohort reported the largest number of APS graduates in recent years with 2,356 students – an increase of 89 students from the year before – earning their high school diplomas last year.
The APS graduation rate represents an 18 percentage point gain in three years and the highest rate the district has received since the state aligned Georgia-wide graduation rates with the national standard in 2012. For more information regarding individual school performance please refer to the APS graduation rates media release and the ATLSuper blog.
Finally, I should note that the Achieve Atlanta investment in APS graduates in its first two years has reached $22 million. Overall, the APS Cohort 2017 earned more than $141 million dollars for college, up from about $118 million the cohort before.
We are super proud of our students and the people who support them in these accomplishments. It gives us hope and assurance that we are doing more and more to ensure that students have more access and opportunities for college and career.