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Compact for Success
Hispanic Outlook Innovations/Programs Compact for Success Thoughtful, Collaborative, Effective By Sandra Gardner Eight years ago, Dr. Edward Brand, then superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District in California, came to the office of Dr. Stephen Weber, president of San Diego State University (SDSU), asking for help, “He said that not enough students were graduating and that the ones who did weren‟t eligible to go to universities, and could we help,” Weber recalled. “The number enrolling at SDSU was exceedingly low, and their graduation rates were even worse.” At the same time, SDSU was going through a revisioning process, a major undertaking. “The university senate—faculty, administration, staff—recommended that SDSU maintain and embrace diversity and serve the local community and ensure that better-prepared students came to the university,” said Gonzalo Rojas, who was SDSU‟s director of outreach at the time. SDSU‟s dean of the College of Education, Lionel (Skip) Meno, told Weber that the focus shouldn‟t be on getting into SDSU but on what it took to make students successful in college. This required some “reverse engineering,” as Weber put it. “We said, „Here‟s what you need to know to be a successful freshman at SDSU.‟ We took it all the way back to the seventh grade. It required some fundamental, serious reform at Sweetwater,” Weber said, “We told them if they were willing to make these changes, students who took rigorous courses and did well would be guaranteed admission to SDSU, Sweetwater was willing to do the „heavy lifting.‟” That was the birth of the Compact for Success between SDSU and Sweetwater. A contract was signed between the two entities in spring 2006. The faculty and administrators at the institutions then sat down and got to work to map out what Sweetwater‟s students needed to be accepted to SDSU and succeed. Rojas was appointed director of the Compact for Success at SDSU. “One problem in the past between the university and the school district was that there was no clear understanding about what was expected for competence at the university,” Rojas said. “As part of the Compact, there has been direct communication between the school district and the university about what constitutes college-level work.” San Diego State University, founded in 1887, is the oldest and largest university in the San Diego region. A part of the California State University System, SDSU has more than 33,000 students, with about 4000 new freshman students a year. Sweetwater Union High School District, situated about 15 miles from the SDSU campus, is the largest and most diverse 7-12 system in California and is about 70 percent Hispanic. About half of its more than 40,000 students speak a language other than English at home. At least half of the schools in the in the district have a low- income population. Under the Compact for Success agreement, Sweetwater‟s responsibilities included developing a rigorous, standard-based curriculum with end-of-course exams; alignment of the curriculum to external exams in core subjects, serving as a pilot for the California State University‟s Early Assessment Program (EAP); and creating cornerstone courses in 12th grade to prepare students for college rigor. The EAP is the enhanced version of the California Standards Test (CST), an achievement test indicating proficiency in broad areas, given to high school students. In order to predict whether a student would be able to work at college level, testing for specific skills for college readiness were added. California State University (CSU), the state‟s Department of Education, and the state Board of Education developed the EAP to cover high school and CSU placement standards. The EAP has three components: early testing; the opportunity for additional preparation in 12 th grade and professional development for high school English and math teachers; and an essay and 15 additional test items each for the English and math 11 th grade CST. Sweetwater created a Rhetoric and Writing course to replace the English 12 class for seniors. And adopted a program called Finite Math, a program called Finite Math, a program created by Long Beach State University and Long Beach Unified School District. Finite Math features math comparable to intermediate algebra, which includes a high level of theoretical problem-solving. Faculty from SDSU‟s College of Education were enlisted to train Sweetwater‟s teachers in the new courses. “Our English 12 teachers were so excited about the Rhetoric and Writing course that it‟s now replaced English 12 [the regular senior English class],” said Earl Wiens, director of higher academic initiatives and director of the Compact for Success program at Sweetwater. “There‟s a tremendous amount of writing in the new class.” Even though the Rhetoric and Writing class is more difficult for the students and more difficult to teach, Wiens said, the pass rates for Rhetoric and Writing were 88.6 percent, compared with an 84 percent pass rate for English 12. Qualifying As Weber noted, college preparation has to start way before the senior year in high school. Compact students must meet a series of benchmarks all along the way. They need to maintain a 3.0 grade point average and a C or higher in math and English classes. They must reach the appropriate level of coursework, that qualifies as “a-g,” a series of basic course areas that all students are required to cover to qualify for entrance to the California State University and the University of California: history; English; math; science; foreign language; visual and performing arts; and a college-prep elective (an additional year of a course in a required area). Elements of the English Honors curriculum have now been integrated into seventh and eight grade English class. Compact students are urged to take algebra by the eight grade, instead of waiting until the ninth. “Parents need to know students have to take rigorous classes in seventh and eight grade,” Wiens said. Compact students must pass the English Proficiency Test (EPT) and the Entry Level Math (ELM) test, which qualify students for freshmen university courses without remediation. And they must do well in the SAT/ACT for admission to SDSU. Students are motivated, informed, and kept on track with SDSU students who serve as Compact College Advisors (CCAs). CCAs regularly meet with Compact students and evaluate their progress. If necessary, students are provided access to free tutors. CCAs also conduct classroom presentations on college requirements. Parents and Students All Sweetwater students through the ninth grade are automatically entered into the Compact for Success program. “The reason for the cutoff at ninth grade,” Rojas said, “is because we need a minimum amount of time to work with the students to make changes.” To further promote the college going mentality, students and parents are invited to visit the SDSU campus in seventh grade and again in 10th grade. Many of the families, about 30 percent or 40 percent of whom are immigrants, had never been in a college campus. Alma, a 13-year-old eight-grader at National City Middle School, in the Sweetwater District, is the daughter of Mexican-born parents. “My parents didn‟t have the opportunity to go to school, and they want the best for me,” she said. “Since I was 4 years old, they started asking me what I wanted to be. I always wanted to be a teacher.” Alma, who has a 3.0 average, has already been to SDSU a half-dozen times and is looking forward to enrolling. “The Compact advisors meet with us and tell us what we need for SDSU; they have events about careers.” Sylvester, another 13-year-old eight-grader at NCMS, is also the child of Mexican- American parents who have encouraged him to plan for college. He‟s been to the SDSU campus with the Compact program and plans to attend the university. “I meet with the Compact advisor from SDSU every month. He told me the classes I need to take to help me get to college,” said Sylvester, who has maintained a 3.3 average. Parents are kept involved throughout the Compact for Success process. Evening presentations for parents and eight-graders describe college requirements, the various university systems, and financial aid opportunities. Eleventh grade assemblies and parent meetings review college requirements; stress the importance of the upcoming state test, SAT, and senior course enrollment‟s impact on college eligibility; and motivate students to maintain eligibility and celebrate accomplishments to date. Parents receive a progress report every six weeks from the beginning, and a notification goes out to parents of students who fall “off-track.” “They can go in and out of track (3.0 average) for a grade period,” Rojas said. “No student is eliminated through one grade period.” If students meet all the benchmark, they are not only guaranteed admission to SDSU, but those who submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) may be awarded a Compact for Success Scholarship for $2,000-$10,000 over four years. The Sweetwater Education Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization, has raised $500,000 for students with financial need in each graduating class. Compact Scholars And when the Compact students get to SDSU, they get a new title, Compact Scholars. The scholars program is designed to support Compact students at SDSU with mentoring, tutoring, internships, support services, advising, and a study-abroad opportunity. The goal is graduation in four years. Janet Osterbye, a first-generation college-goer with Argentinean roots, and a former high school teacher, directs the Compact Scholars Program and works with each student individually. “We‟re at the infant stages with the Scholars Program,” Osterbye said. “They‟re my shining stars, the trailblazers.” SDSU designed Lincs, or Learning in Communities, packages, specifically for incoming Compact Scholars. These include not only classes in which Compact students learn as a small group, but also an added discussion class for the political science course. “Political science is one of the most challenging courses for many students,” Osterbye said. “The extra discussion group helps.” In fall of 2000, seventh-graders at Sweetwater became the first Compact for Success students. Six hundred and twenty-eight of them are now freshmen at SDSU, more than double the enrollment last year. Seventy-seven of the students are eligible for the Honors Program, which comprises the top 5 percent of incoming students. “This is an example of what talent was going to waste in the past,” said Weber. One of the Compact Scholars is Bryan Fischbein. His parents, who run a software company, both attended SDSU, but didn‟t graduate. Fischbein, who is of Hispanic heritage (his mother was born in Mexico), is a political science major with a 3.4 average planning for law school. He‟s also a member of the SDSU Ambassadors, a volunteer group that helps with freshmen orientation and tours, among other activities. “In middle school, I really didn‟t understand the gravity of what I needed to go to college,” Fischbein said. “The counselors from school really pushed the program. They put up posters all over the campus with the requirements for college. I could see one of them from class. When my mind would wander, my eyes would go back to it and check off what classes I needed to take.” Many of these students, some educators have noted, would never have gone to college in the past. They were being tracked into non-college curriculums. “Their parents, being recent immigrants, did not know how to help them.” “The idea was to create a college-going mentality and attitude,” Wiens said. “In our graduating class of 2006—of 5,152—1,400 were admitted to SDSU. That‟s the product we wanted. When they walked out of high school, they had choices.” Choice is the operative word for Jose, another 13-year-old eight-grader at NCMS, with a Mexican-American heritage. “The Compact advisor tells me what classes to take when I get into high school,” said Jose, who has a 3.5-3.8 average. “But I‟ll probably go somewhere else for college. I want to go out of the San Diego area.” Hispanic Outlook 02/12/2007 About the magazine: For 17 years, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine® has been a top information news source and the sole Hispanic educational magazine for the higher education community and those involved in running our institutions of higher learning. Published biweekly, or 25 times per year, H/O covers events, news, and ongoing trends that effect our multicultural institutions of the 21st century. H/O reaches a large minority print audience with an average pass along of nearly 50,000 readers. Each issue brings forth the significance of communication in academic circles, the importance of the positive learning experience, role models, and the contribution of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic writers with constructive observations on policies and procedures in academia. Working with an editorial board of accomplished professionals, H/O presents progressive feature articles, which enable constructive discussion of issues confronted by Hispanics and others on college campuses and in private industry.
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