When the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) reached out to researchers at WestEd in 2019, they were searching for an evidence-based solution that would improve the numbers of Rhode Island students who attend — and complete — college, especially students who have been historically underserved.

The WestEd partnership with RIDE offers a powerful model for other districts and systems seeking to support middle and high school students to regain momentum and continue on their path toward college and beyond.

According to RIDE, of the students who enrolled in a postsecondary institution, only 34 percent completed their studies within 10 years (based on a 2008 high school freshman cohort).

The outcomes for students who have been marginalized are more dire. Although the average attainment rate was 34 percent, completion rates dipped to:

  • 21% for students of color,
  • 19% for students from low-income households,
  • 9% for students who are differently abled, and
  • less than 7% for students who are multilingual learners.

To address the issue of college attainment and completion and to support students whose learning was disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, WestEd collaborated with educators from RIDE to develop and help implement high school and college readiness courses in reading and math with two WestEd initiatives with demonstrated impact on student outcomes — Reading Apprenticeship and Carnegie Math Pathways.

As part of RIDE’s Summer Academy for Interactive Learning (SAIL) program, these online courses launched in summer 2020 and built upon Reading Apprenticeship and Carnegie Math Pathways’ research-based content and proven instructional approaches that have been successfully adapted for remote learning.

Seventeen hundred students enrolled in the summer program. Based on data collected in an evaluation of the implementation, the courses yielded promising student outcomes.

Early Signs of Student Readiness

Students across all the courses reported feeling engaged and connected to their teachers and peers.

Reading course students grew in three major areas:

  • Comprehension of complex texts
  • Positive self-concept as readers and students
  • Explicit approaches to reading complex texts

“I have learned many reading strategies from this course. I believe I could put any kind of book in front of me, no matter how hard, and I would be able to get through it,” commented one 12th grade student on a survey.

Students in both math courses demonstrated impressive gains. Performance on pre- and post-tests showed:

  • Students in the high school course improved their score by 15 percentage points. Average scores improved for all sections, and there were gains for each student subgroup.
  • Students in the college course improved their SAT score by 55 points. This growth was particularly pronounced for students who began the course with below-average skills in math, who increased their SAT score by 100 points.

Adapting and Building on Curriculum with Proven Results

The WestEd team worked closely with RIDE educators to create the course content and a learning experience aligned to student needs and RIDE’s learning objectives.

Each course was designed as an eight-week online experience with synchronous and asynchronous components facilitated by Rhode Island teachers, enabling students to both work together with their peers online and then supplement the collaborative work with independent practice exercises adapted to their needs.

The courses — high school math readiness, high school reading readiness, college math readiness, and college reading readiness — build content knowledge, while also helping students to develop the skills and mindsets necessary to engage in high school and college classes and apply their learnings to the real world.

Embedded with each course were supports for effective teaching and learning, including:

  • Social-emotional tools and strategies that promote a growth mindset, sense of belonging, meaningful collaboration, metacognitive awareness, and the use of learning strategies — all key factors in student engagement, learning, and success
  • Evidence-based interventions and routines tailored to specific disciplines and ages
  • Student surveys designed to provide teachers with a window into students’ attitudes and beliefs and identify opportunities for intervention and support
  • Teacher surveys designed to help instructional coaches assess how teachers are processing and experiencing the courses

In addition, while all the courses are based on existing curriculum, adapting the courses for summer-term distance learning required further development.

“The curriculum was fantastic. I loved teaching reading skills in the context of social justice thematic texts and media sources. I also love the way that we were able to engage with both full groups and small groups for targeted instruction online.” — Reading teacher

“This course was designed with student learning at the forefront. It has been an absolute pleasure teaching this book to this group of students…. It has inspired many deep conversations and I think has really moved this group forward for the fall of their 9th-grade year.” — Reading teacher

The reading readiness courses are based on Reading Apprenticeship, an approach that grows students’ academic literacy while building their knowledge, collaborative skills, persistence, and confidence. In multiple studies, students in Reading Apprenticeship classrooms outperform their peers on content-area learning and literacy tests, and the program is rated “Strong” under the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) evidence requirements.

The high school course is based on the two-semester Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy course, shown in previous studies to improve reading comprehension, grades, and standardized test scores. The college readiness course is adapted from Reading Apprenticeship’s work with Pasadena City College’s First Year Experience (FYE). Prior studies illustrate that students who took the FYE courses, including a high percentage of English learner students, show higher rates of persistence and success in college courses.

The math readiness courses, based on the Carnegie Math Pathways’ unique and proven approach, engage students in collaborative learning around rich, real-world problem contexts relevant to their lives, studies, and career paths. The approach embeds key social-emotional support to build confidence and persistence. Year after year, Carnegie Math Pathways courses have more than tripled student success in pre-college and college-level math.

The high school math readiness course builds on WestEd’s Aim for Algebra, a standards-aligned, conceptually based curriculum that supports students through common barriers to algebra success. Studies show Aim for Algebra produces significantly higher gains than traditional algebra instruction. The content of the high school readiness course is aligned with key learning objectives of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics to target the needs of this population of students. Combined with Pathways’ instructional model, the course provides students opportunities to engage in productive struggle with meaningful and relevant math in a student-centered learning environment.

The college math readiness course is adapted from Carnegie Math Pathways’ Quantway course — implemented by over 80 institutions around the country — and tailored to meet the specific learning objectives of Rhode Island high schools in concert with Rhode Island College. The design gives students access to engaging, rigorous, and scaffolded learning activities that help them to cultivate deep conceptual understanding and procedural fluency.

“The content and the collaborations, tying all the disciplines together has been a very good experience for me.” – Math teacher

“Students are doing better at communication with each other, they’re explaining their answers better, collaborating better — if they are articulating what they did or how they did it, they are showing depth of knowledge of the content.” – Math teacher

Teacher Preparation, Support, and Communities of Practice

Teachers who participated in the summer program needed to quickly learn new instructional content to be taught through distance learning on a new platform. To support delivery of these courses, teachers received extensive professional learning before and during the courses.

Each teacher was paired with experienced instructional coaches, with expertise in the course and faculty professional learning. The pairs met weekly for support with content, pedagogy, and administrative issues.

The substantive training, mentorship, and collegial support created a community of practice — especially important with remote teaching and even more so during such a challenging year.

Teachers found the course content engaging and high-quality. Many teachers appreciated the opportunity to practice new collaborative learning skills and tools that could be used both online and in person.

Collaborating for Student Success in High School, College, and Beyond

The RIDE/WestEd partnership paints a portrait of how school districts and systems can create programs that align with learning objectives and support student needs during this challenging time and beyond.

Based on the success of the summer 2020 implementation, RIDE is continuing to partner with WestEd to refine and scale these courses. Looking ahead, the department hopes to offer similar courses year-round and to expand to elementary school, with the hope of capturing students at critical junctures to prepare them for the next step in their learning.

Elizabeth Texeira, Interim Director of the Office of College and Career Readiness at RIDE, sums up the impact and prospects of the summer readiness courses best. “We’re on to something here. The kids love it, our teachers love it, our schools are loving it, and it’s making a difference for student achievement.”

To learn more about WestEd’s customized online high school and college readiness courses, please contact Karon Klipple, Director of Carnegie Math Pathways (klipple@WestEd.org).