Balance

I don’t know about you, but there are some days I would rather not come to work.  I like my job and I’m reasonably good at it, but there are other things I like to do and am good at, too.  But the bottom line is this: my work has to be my priority.  It is what I have chosen to do, and it carries obligations.  Granted, it’s important to sometimes take time away and do that other stuff, but it just can’t be whenever I feel like it or just because I feel like it.  First things first, you know, and most days that means coming to work.

So, what’s the point? 

I got to thinking about this analogy because of a conversation I was having with a student.  It went something like this:

Me: “We like to see more rigor during senior year.”

Student: “But you said that extracurriculars were important.  I was in band (and went to state), three sports (and lettered in all of them), and I worked, too.  I didn’t want to load up too much with classes because I didn’t want my GPA to go down.”

Me: “Yes, we noticed your involvement, and actually your ‘engagement’ was a plus factor in our evaluation.  But that doesn’t make up for the fact that you could have – and should have – fit more college-prep classes into your senior schedule.  Lack of rigor was a ‘minus’ factor.”

Student:  “But I LIKE those other classes, and I’m good at them.  And I LIKE music and sports, and I’m good at them.  Why shouldn’t I be able to do those things?”

 Maybe you see my point.  The lesson this particular student had to learn was about priorities, making choices, and balance.  If you think of the primary “job” of a college-bound student as preparing for college-level course work, then the analogy falls into place.  We all have to make choices, and we all have to decide what is most important when making choices – it’s called “priorities.”  No one can do it all.  It’s a life lesson: the choices we have to make are not always the choices we want to make. 

Having said that, I would also acknowledge that the “other stuff” is important and worthy of some portion of available time.  That’s where the “balance” comes in.  It is true that we like to see engagement and leadership in high school – and we like to see it in college, too.  The things learned outside of the classroom are valuable life lessons, and can serve students well in the future.  It’s when the “other stuff” crowds out the primary responsibility – academics – that both high school and college students run into trouble.  Every student must find the point at which their academics and activities balance in such a way as to allow for excellence in both.

I won’t pretend that it’s an easy lesson to teach because so much depends upon the individual.  However, high school is a good time for students to start learning to recognize their skills and limitations, and to learn the life lessons of priorities, choices and balance.  When they learn this in high school, it will carry into their college years, hopefully leading to success there, and then into their career and family lives.

No, I didn’t particularly want to come to work today.  It’s cold, blustery, and rainy and I’d have preferred to stay home and can homemade applesauce (which I’m good at and I LIKE doing).  But I did come to work, and will fulfill my obligations here, and will plan to can applesauce on the weekend.  Priorities, choices and balance.  It’s real life.

“Reflections on Rigor” – What does it mean and why does it matter?

I’m continuing to reflect on the topics that were covered during the UW System School Counselors’ Workshops in September.  One recurring theme, at least among the messages that the UW Admissions Directors were delivering, was the concept of rigor.  I apologize in advance for the length of this post, which I know may be daunting to the reader, but this is a big topic worthy of a big entry.

 I believe the directors are in agreement that rigor is a factor when evaluating a student for admission.  “Rigor” can be defined in various ways, but I think it’s safe to say that there are elements common to most of our evaluations:

  1. the level of challenge of a given class – for instance, AP, IB, “advanced” and “honors” courses would generally be recognized as more rigorous, while courses that are remedial, basic in nature or meant to review/reinforce earlier studies would be recognized as less rigorous.  Naturally, there’s a continuum with many courses between the two extremes.  Course descriptions can be very instructive when we try to evaluate the rigor/challenge of any given course.
  2. the specific discipline of a course – there are five general disciplines that fall into commonly-accepted definitions of “college preparatory” – English, math, science, social studies, and foreign language.  These are the disciplines that most directly prepare students for the expectations that will face them in a competitive college environment.  College professors expect students (even freshmen) to be able to research and write essays and papers; to gather, synthesize, and present information; to have an understanding of national and international issues and social structures; to be able to use mathematics not only in respect to pure math, but also in relation to disciplines in natural sciences and the social sciences; to have knowledge in the natural sciences that prepare them for college laboratory science courses; and to communicate effectively verbally and in writing.  These skills will be necessary for all students, regardless of their eventual major, since all students will devote a significant proportion of their college degree to general education-type requirements. 

 At this point I think it’s very important to stress that this does NOT mean that we think courses outside of the “college-prep” disciplines are unimportant.  Indeed, studies in the fine arts, computers, family and consumer education, business, agriculture, technology, and the like are all very important in defining a well-rounded person, and a well-rounded education.  Courses that prepare students for life are important!  The UW System reinforces this in its overall admission policy which allows for the inclusion of these courses in campus admission evaluations.  Please understand: Students are not penalized for taking these courses!  Rather, it would be the absence of core college-prep courses that might reflect negatively in an evaluation.

 Rigor in the senior year is especially important.  We know that some students will satisfy most graduation requirements prior to their senior year.  It may be tempting for them to take a less-challenging schedule during the senior year in an effort to increase/maintain their GPA, or to simply “take a break” after working hard the previous years.  This strategy, however, can backfire.  Here is an analogy frequently cited by Alan Tuchtenhagen, Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services at UW-River Falls: If you have a student who is a candidate for a college athletic scholarship, is it likely that the student would tell the coach that s/he wants as little challenge as possible during the senior season?  No!  The student will want to maintain or improve their skills in order to be better prepared for college-level competition.  This is exactly what should be happening academically during the senior year – academic conditioning!  Students need to be prepared for the academic competition inherent in the college environment, and this means taking a challenging senior schedule.

 ACT has also taken a strong stand on high school rigor – on its importance, that is.  Please see my October 1 entry, and the links to ACT research, for more details.

 A final note on rigor, as it applies to students who begin high school science, math, or foreign language in 8th grade.  The purpose (in our minds, at least) for starting high school work in 8th grade is so that the student can go farther in that discipline in high school, not so they can quit sooner.  If a student takes algebra in 8th grade, then quits math after algebra 2 in 10th grade, we would not view that as a good thing. 

 The bottom line is this, in regard to rigor:  We are trying to admit university graduates.  “Getting in” as a freshman really isn’t the point.  Graduating from college IS the point.  We’re not trying to make it harder to get into college; we’re trying to make it easier to graduate from college.  Expecting and enforcing rigorous high school preparation for college-level study simply makes sense.  It is in the student’s best interest to do so.  And, ultimately, I think that’s what we all have in mind:  the student’s best interest.

Affirmations:  Because of broad agreement about the importance of rigor among my UW System Admissions colleagues, I asked them to let me know if they were willing to affirm their agreement with this entry.  Those who affirmed this entry are:

UW-Eau Claire – Kris Anderson, Executive Director of Enrollment Services

UW-La Crosse – Kathy Kiefer, Director of Admissions

UW-Madison – Tom Reason, Interim Director of Admissions

UW-Milwaukee – Beth Weckmueller, Executive Director of Enrollment Services

UW-Oshkosh – Jill Endries, Director of Admissions

UW-Parkside – Matthew Jensen, Director of Admissions

UW-Platteville – Angela Udelhofen, Director of Admissions

UW-River Falls – Alan Tuchtenhagen, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services

UW-Stevens Point – Catherine Glennon, Director of Admissions

UW-Stout – Joel Helms, Assistant Director of Admissions

UW-Superior – Tonya Roth, Director of Admissions

UW-Whitewater – Jodi Hare-Paynter, Interim Director of Admissions/Registrar

ACT Research

If you were at the UW System School Counselor Workshops at during September, you may remember that I mentioned I would post a blog entry about some really good ACT research.  ACT has volumes of research, and you may not want to wade through their web site to try to figure out what is most useful to you.  Here are three suggestions that I think you might find really helpful.

  1.  “Crisis at the Core” – In my mind, this is the “gold standard” call to action for education in America.  There’s a lot of data here, and it takes time to really absorb it, but it’s worth doing.  Then, share it with anyone and everyone who will read it.  If you are alarmed and want someone to come speak to your school board, superintendant, teachers, whomever, ACT has been really good about providing these services. 
  2. “College Readiness Benchmarks” – For the class of 2009, only 23% of students who took the ACT met all four benchmark scores indicating readiness for college-level work.  Again, this is alarming (to me, at least).  This sort of information needs to be used to mobilize support for our schools.  
  3. “On Course for Success” – Builds a case for the thesis that preparation for the work force is virtually equivalent to preparation for college.  Rigor and performance are important for both venues.  Do you suppose we might be able to stop differential tracking for college-bound versus non-college-bound students?  Food for thought.

Please, take the time to read and share this research.  It’s too important to ignore.

No Math, No Admission (It bears repeating….)

The post below is a copy of an editorial I wrote for last year’s counselor edition of the Phoenix Update.  I repeat it here due to continuing concerns regarding math preparation for incoming freshmen. 

No Math, No Admission

For the incoming freshman class of 2008, we saw an unfortuate trend – an unusual number of admissions were rescinded due to the failure of the third required credit of high school math.  It may seem that rescinding admission is a rather drastic response when a student “only” fails (or is missing) a credit of math, especially when the rest of the record is relatively solid.

Well, there’s more to this story than you may realize.  Research by ACT, as well as research on our own campus, indicates a strong correlation between success in math and success in college in general.  The number of  UW-Green Bay freshmen requiring remedial math has increased steadily each year.  It may be too much of a stretch to say that all students struggle in college as a result of inadequate math preparation, but indicators do show a relationship.

Solid research shows that the more math a student takes in high school, the higher their ACT scores will be in math and the less likely they are to need remediation.  We reel strongly that it is not unreasonable to expect an incoming freshman to complete at least three credits of college-prep math (with the understanding that more is better), with the expectation that their eventual college success will be tied to this preparation.

The bottom line:  A student who cannot successfully complete three credits of high school college-prep math is unlikely to be successful at UW-Green Bay.  Therefore, we feel that rescinding admission based on failing required math courses during senior year is not an unreasonable action.  It’s never an easy decision, but it may be a necessary decision.