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Accounting for outcomes: colleges can close the student achievement gap by focusing on defining problems.

THE CALIFORNIA community Colleges system is vast: 112 colleges and 50-plus centers serving about 2.5 million students annually. There are many exemplary programs and educational practices, and a virtual renaissance is taking place in our colleges' physical plants as communities and the state invest nearly $17 billion in rebuilding.

Overseeing all of this from a policy and fiscal perspective is the Board of Governors. In the 1990s, long-standing concerns about student performance and outcomes led the board to pass a requirement that every college prepare and submit a "student equity plan." The requirement kicked in in 1993.

The system's enrollment demographics are almost identical to California's overall demographics. However, the end results--namely graduation and transfer rates--don't mirror the ethnic or gender makeup of the state. The idea of these student equity plans was primarily to make our "back door" more reflective of our "front door."

Despite more than a decade passing, the quality of the plans has been mixed. Some colleges have yet to submit one. Part of the problem: no framework for the development of the plans was provided, and no specific measurements were required. This resulted in plans that varied from well-thought-out proposals based on research and quantitative outcomes, to plans that were idealized stories of how things would be in a perfect world. The system office has provided some framing structure and measurement requirements, but much work remains to be done.


That's where Equity for All comes in. The project, whose full name is Equity for All: Institutional Responsibility for Student Success, is headed by Professor Estela Mara Bensimon of the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education. It involves a number of our colleges, together with some public and private comprehensive universities. The project's aim is to disaggregate student academic performance data, and then look for identifiable blockages or gateways that prevent certain underrepresented students from moving further in their pursuit of education.

Most achievement gap initiatives focus on solutions. Equity for All focuses on defining the problem. It uses the Equity Scorecard, an analysis of educational outcome indicators and benchmarks organized into four perspectives: academic pathways, retention, transfer readiness, and excellence in achievement. While the results and applications resulting from the use of the scorecard (previously called the Diversity Scorecard) have varied by school, overall it's apparent that this work is valuable and can help reform institutional practices and policies such as curriculum and teaching methods.

When I learned of the Lumina Foundation for Education providing $300,000 to implement Equity for All in a small number of community colleges, I jumped at the chance to help fund the project and spread the participating institutions over a broader spectrum of our college taxonomies. I matched Lumina's contribution with $300,000 of personal funds so 10 colleges, rather than three or four, could participate.

The ultimate goal of implementing Equity for All is to find a model that can be used across the system as a research basis for the next generation of student equity plans. Only by using a proven and uniform tool for gauging students' success throughout their educational progression will we be able to locate and fix the pedagogical and structural problems that are continuing to make our "back door" much less diverse and equitable than our "front door."

Equity for All involves teams of faculty, counselors, and administrators using campus data to identify gaps in academic outcomes for underrepresented students. Team members assume the role of researchers and develop ownership for the problems our colleges face. They want to take action.

We have much confidence that the Equity for All project will provide us with the uniform framework needed to help us help more students reach their educational goals.

Marshall Drummond is chancellor of the California Community Colleges system.
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Title Annotation:END NOTE
Author:Drummond, Marshall
Publication:University Business
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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