[New York, NY] - Following are the remarks as prepared for delivery by College Board President David Coleman at the organization’s 2012 National Forum in Miami, Florida.
As you know, this is my first public speech as the President of the College Board. I feel I should start by being honest with you. Many of you are relaxing in your chairs, fairly calm, waiting to hear what the new guy will say. But there is another group – the board members and the team at the College Board who have put their trust in me– they are terrified. You see, the problem is I have a tendency toward candor and slightly colorful language. They are just waiting for me to say something inappropriate. It is just a matter of time.
But I don’t think the important news tonight is that there is a new President of the College Board. The important news is that something has happened in America. Since 2004, a million more students have taken AP. A more diverse student body than ever. What was seen as an elite program has broken through and reached a million more students. And what happened is NOT what you would expect when a program expands to a more diverse, larger body of students. The results are in and the news is that performance improved. That is, a million more students took the AP exams since 2004 – the most diverse group of students ever, and scores are higher.
Why does that matter? Why, because if this country is to be great, we must increase diversity and improve performance. We need to do both. At the center of the College Board, at the center of America, is the idea that we can have both equity and excellence. Who then, did this work that advances our mission, on which our nation stands a bit stronger? On whose shoulders do I stand today? It is the teachers and students of this country. They are the ones who have delivered. I would like to make my first official congratulations as College Board President to celebrate the work of teachers and students and their achievement. If you are an AP teacher (or a teacher who helped prepare kids for AP), so much of what we do depends on you.
And of course, I am mindful that the College Board, this institution, played a role. In 2010, a major milestone was achieved – more AP exams were taken annually than the SAT. Such a future was hard to imagine 13 years ago, when Gaston Caperton became president of the College Board – AP was a small program. It is he who oversaw its growth. He and a remarkable Board of Trustees who had a vision as to how they could at once revitalize the College Board as an institution and help students at the same time. And today, the College Board emerges from Gaston’s leadership. Gaston is not here today, but another man is who I believe played a central role — he is Paul Sechrist, who you just heard from, the chair of our Board of Trustees who has guided the College Board as a trustee since 2003. Also here is Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, our former chair, and Maghan Keita, our vice chair. Paul, Youlonda, Maghan, I salute you and your fellow long-serving board members who have built this institution. Will the Trustees who are here please stand?
The College Board is a membership institution – composed of members from higher education and K-12, guidance counselors, financial aid officers, academic and institutional leaders, and teachers. And I believe the College Board’s strength depends on our members, many of whom are here. I want to thank our members; everything we have achieved and will achieve will be together with our members.
The College Board has a track record of investing in excellence — let’s look at what happened at the College Board as AP grew. You might think, if you thought as some companies do, that in the face of successful growth of AP, we should change nothing.
But that is not what the leaders of the AP program did, some of the most principled and talented leaders I have had the pleasure to meet as I join the College Board. Over the past few years, the AP team has led a truly remarkable redesign of AP to focus students and teachers on fewer things done well. They heard the criticism from teachers and students that AP could devolve into a race for coverage rather than learning. Working in the way only the College Board can, with talented college professors and AP teachers, they redesigned AP science and history to focus on what matters most –to give students the opportunity to be historians and scientists rather than witnesses of a superficial survey.
I have looked at the course redesigns and I hope you will not find me strange if I say I find them beautiful — they honor knowledge and skill, deep expertise and focused intensity. To the members of the AP team, and just as important, any AP teachers or college teachers involved in the AP redesign — I salute your work.
What else has the College Board invested in – let me share with you four other ideas and actions I find beautiful:
First, the Don’t Forget Ed Campaign. I will admit that I was a skeptic when I first heard about this. I sometimes worry about broad campaigns – are they a waste of money and time? But Don’t Forget Ed, through the inspired use of design, created unforgettable images. Who can forget the empty chairs on the mall, representing students who drop out in this country, with the image of the Washington monument behind them? To the Don’t Forget Ed team, I celebrate your imagination to use limited resources to make an impact.
A second beautiful idea is that assessment could do more than measure students but also reveal their potential. A few years ago, researchers at the College Board discovered that those students who scored well on the PSAT were likely to succeed in AP and could be labeled as having AP Potential. Here in this great state of Florida, which has had the greatest and most diverse growth in participation in AP – this insight came to life – what they did was they used students PSAT scores to propel a far more diverse set of students into AP. The scores revealed that many low-income and minority students who had academic potential had been overlooked. Assessment team members — I salute your commitment to assessment as a force to deliver opportunity.
A third beautiful insight emerged from our teams in college access, student search, and research. These teams found remarkable data that revealed that many students who scored well on the SAT and had great grades — do not go to college. These teams, along with the operations team at the College Board, decided that they should set out to change those numbers. I applaud their initiative and investment in social justice. To the college access, research, and operational leadership of the College Board — thank you for finding facts that matter, and even better, beginning to act on them.
Finally, due to work on our technical operations and data infrastructure, the College Board is on the brink of a breakthrough in providing data for research. The College Board has access to some of the most important data sets there are, but the problem is that getting that data for research has not been easy or cheap: Think of cat’s cradle rather than clear line of access. We will soon announce that data will be provided to researchers far more easily — and most of those requests for data that don’t require analytic work on our part will be free for the first time. We are on the brink of throwing open the doors of our data sets to make them available for further research. I salute the technical operations and data teams for their contribution to openness and insight.
All of this excellent work happened before I became President. My initial thoughts about an agenda for the College Board focus on accelerating its finest work. Before I outline that agenda, I want to share a little more about myself.
I grew up in NYC – and I went to public school until college. Of the three public schools I went to, the most remarkable place was my middle school, IS 70. There are a few of reasons for that.
First, IS 70 was strikingly diverse. IS 70 was on 17th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues in NYC. Those of you who know NYC would know that area as Chelsea – with lots of fashion and bright stores. But when I was a kid, – these stores did not exist – the only storefronts were bodegas – 10th Avenue was dominated by the housing projects. There is now a fancy hotel near there called the Maritime Hotel; it used to be a home for runaway youths called the Covenant House.
The second thing that made the school great was the education I received there. There was a great principal named Blanche Schwartz who insisted the arts were studied as rigorously as other academic subjects. And two English teachers Mrs. Rooney, and Mrs. Mazzalupo –worked together to provide a curriculum in English Language Arts that shaped me. Mary Rooney was scary in the way great teachers can be – she taught me how to explicate a poem and I shall never forget her feedback to me after grading one of my exams, “don’t worry, darling – you’re good at lots of other things.” Roz Mazzalupo, my 8th grade teacher, assigned us Flowers for Algernon. It was the first book I read with care. She gave us an assignment – to interpret the main character’s dreams based on what we had read in the book. Charlie’s dreams were haunting and mysterious, and so I read and reread the book like a detective, looking for clues. I didn’t know enough about psychoanalysis then to know that by caring so much about interpreting dreams based on evidence I was paying tribute to my father, a psychiatrist.
I spent my high school years on the debate team, traveling around the country, excelling at the one activity in life where talking too much and being needlessly argumentative actually advances you. But what I really learned from debating was through spending so much time with students from around the country, Texas, California, the rural south —who became my best friends. So while I grew up in NYC, I got an early sense of the range of life, including rural life, outside of it.
I went to college and quit debating – and followed my mom’s advice, herself a college president, for succeeding in college. It was brief: “Read what keeps you up at night.” So I did.
What I read was philosophy, but for me it was not disconnected from the world – when Kant talked about each of us architects who build a world when we act, and Rousseau talked about what active citizens can and must do, it haunted me. At the same time I was reading those books, I was guest-teaching poetry at the local inner-city high school — Hillhouse High School. And I thought to myself I was sharing what I loved, poetry, why don’t all Yale students? So many community service programs asked students to donate time — but I thought: What if we instead ask students to share their passion? Hence the Community Service Program Branch was born, in which Yale Students shared something they loved to do with Hillhouse High School students. So we had athletes for athletes, an arts program, and a journalism program in which the Yale Daily News worked with their newspaper. We became in a short time the largest community service program on campus.
Based on that work I received a Rhodes Scholarship, with which I studied English literature. And I got a Masters in philosophy with a focus on Ancient Greek Philosophy. I loved how the Greeks thought about education in that it was in no way narrow – it included equally the sciences and drama, ethics and politics, the whole soul. So as a result of all this work, I had a BA in Philosophy, a second BA in English Literature, and a Master’s Degree in Greek Philosophy — three degrees which entitle you to zero jobs.
It turns out the job I wanted most was to be a high school English teacher back in the NYC public schools – but the problem was not only that I didn’t have a teaching degree – but there were budget cuts. They offered me a substitute teaching job – and even I didn’t go to class when we had a sub, so I couldn’t face that. So I did the next logical thing for someone with no qualifications – I got a job as a management consultant. At McKinsey I spent all the time I could moonlighting working pro bono with school districts to improve their performance.
After 5 years at McKinsey I started an organization called Grow – with the notion of making the results of assessments truly useful to teachers. What was the secret of our success? Listening to teachers. We learned from teachers they received results from testing in the spring when they couldn’t do anything about them. So we gave teachers the results for their classrooms in the fall where they could use the results to tailor instruction in their new classrooms. Then we did something really unusual in education publishing – we talked to students. Based on those conversations, we designed the first personalized study guides for students based on their results.
Grow succeeded more swiftly than I expected and was acquired by McGraw Hill — which prompted a rather early mid-life crisis. I had been financially successful, but as I looked over my work, I was worried I had nudged things in the right direction but not truly changed education. I am sure many of you here this evening who work in education have had at times worried that together in education we are facing a wall. And I knew that if I wanted to bring down a wall, I needed an idea – a galvanizing idea around something that mattered, that could call others to concerted action.
So, I became convinced that the underlying standards for students had to change. That is, as long as the standards for what kids needed to know were vast and vague, textbooks that covered them would be vast and vague. When you cover too many topics in the standards for students, assessments designed to measure those standards are inevitably superficial.
In order to inspire excellence, academic standards for students would have to be far “Fewer, Clearer, Higher.” And in order to achieve that vision those standards had to be based on evidence of what would truly prepare students. The data were also clear that our current standards were not working — so many students who graduate from high school and get diplomas are not ready for the demands of college and work —far too many enter remediation programs which they never escape. Our current academic standards had become a dead end – a false promise.
So a remarkably talented friend named Jason Zimba and I founded a small non-profit dedicated to acting on evidence, called Student Achievement Partners. While we were doing our work, a movement was blossoming led by governors and Chief State School Officers to have states take the lead in developing common standards. This movement of state-led work on higher standards had deep bipartisan roots, dating back to the Charlottesville summit in 1989 in which the nation’s governors led by Governor Bill Clinton worked with then President Bush. Building on that foundation, non-profits such as Achieve, the Hunt Institute, and the Alliance for Excellent Education had all been working with states for several years to achieve the foundations for common standards. Our team at Student Achievement Partners came to this conversation with the perspective that if we wanted a breakthrough in college and career readiness, it is not enough to have common standards unless they were based on evidence and truly fewer, clearer, higher.
In math, the countries that outperform the United States focus on teaching far fewer topics with greater coherence and rigor. In literacy, it turned out much of the reading students were doing was far below the grade level needed to get them on track and most of the writing students were doing wouldn’t prepare them for the demands of either college or careers. The core standards are designed around a core of work that really matters, work worth doing that prepares students for college and career.
So that makes a lot of sense – the real question is how did a sensible idea like that get anywhere? How could it be true that today 46 states in this country have put aside their differences to adopt a set of common sense standards? In order to explain I need to tell you a fairy tale about another country. In this imaginary country, democrats and republicans work together to solve problems. The Common Core Standards represent a shocking victory of design and evidence over partisanship, and show the power of states acting in common. Great leaders like Gene Wilhoit of the Council of Chief State School Officers played a critical role in keeping this country together. And teachers and their unions have been essential. Teachers throughout this country have raised their hands to support more demanding standards.
And our team at Student Achievement Partners now continues to lead efforts to implement these standards and fulfill their promise to improve instruction and assessment. Student Achievement Partners is led by Jason Zimba in math, and Susan Pimentel in literacy – they both played a shaping role in the writing of the standards. There are no two people whom I admire more as friends and as colleagues – and our country is so lucky they have dedicated themselves to this work.
So, in the face of that rewarding work with colleagues I love — why did I take this job? I have accepted the honor of becoming President of the College Board because I believe that there are two walls in our society that must come down. And I think the College Board can play a critical role.
The first wall is that academic performance in later grades, particularly in literacy, has stalled. We have made some progress in accelerating academic performance in earlier grades in this country and reducing achievement gaps, but the news in later grades is sobering. SAT scores, particularly in reading, are declining. And while some excuse that decline on the basis that more diverse students are taking the test – I believe we cannot take comfort in that explanation – if we are to be competitive internationally and achieve the values of this country, we must improve performance and diversity. In my judgment, the College Board has also to face the fact that while it has grown as an institution over the last 15 years – academic performance in later grades is frozen or declining. Can we truly call the College Board a success when our students are falling further behind the older they get?
The wall that we face in later academic performance has been around for a while. NAEP reading scores in 8th grade have been flat for 40 years. During that same period, we have doubled or tripled educational spending. My friends – we have hit a wall – despite 40 years of education reform – if we cannot achieve a breakthrough in getting students to read at higher levels, nothing else we do will matter. If we are going to get more STEM students, more engineers, and more advanced students in other fields, students’ academic performance in later grades must accelerate, not decelerate.
I said earlier I believe that there are two walls the College Board must help bring down. The second wall is also a durable wall, one that has also stood for over 40 years. What I am talking about is the continued challenge of ensuring that there is diversity at the highest levels of academic achievement – including low-income students and students of diverse races. More than 40 years after the great civil rights battles in this country, we still see far too little diversity at the high end of performance.
One needs look no farther than the data from my alma matter, Stuyvesant High School. As many of you know, Stuyvesant is a specialized math and science high school in NYC for which you have to take a test to get in. At Stuyvesant, 19 blacks qualified for seats in this year’s freshman class of 967. In total, there are 3,295 students at Stuyvesant; 40 are black; they account for 1.2 percent of Stuyvesant’s population, but 32 percent overall in the system. Out of an entering class of 967, 32 Latinos qualified for admission. Latino students make up 2.4% of Stuyvesant students; they account for 40.3% of all NYC public school students. And remember, many students in private and catholic schools also apply for free admission to the specialized high schools. The news is alarming – no educational pipeline is working to produce sufficient diversity of performance at the highest levels.
A look at the past 20 years of SAT scores shows this is a national problem, where we are not making progress.
- In 1994, an average of 1 out of every 150 African American students who took the SAT scored in the top 5%. In 2012, 1 out of every 189 African American students scored in the top 5%.
- In 1994, 1 of every 65 Latino students who took the SAT scored in the top 5%. By 2012, 1 out of every 87 Latino students scored in the top 5%.
- By contrast, approximately 1 in every 18 white students and nearly 1 in every 7 Asian students scored in the top 5% in 2012.
The College Board, as an institution committed to equity and excellence, cannot tolerate inequity at the heights of excellence. When I joined the College Board, the Trustees entrusted me with diversifying the leadership of this institution – and I accept that obligation. But I believe the College Board has a broader obligation, to diversify the highest levels of performance in this country.
These two walls must come down. The fact that so many students are not advancing in later grades – let’s call this our national debt – because it saddles us with a generation not ready for the demands of college and career. And let’s call the lack of diversity at the highest levels of performance our national tragedy, which betrays this country’s commitment to equity and excellence.
I do not know yet how the College Board can most contribute to taking down these walls. What I do know is that it is audacious and perhaps crazy to take on things that have not changed in 40 years. I know it will not be the work of a moment, but a sustained effort over many years. I know it will take partners; the College Board cannot do this alone but must use its special position at the border of K-12 and higher education. And some of our great partners in technology, the arts, and other areas may come from outside the field of education altogether. When facing such long-standing challenges, we must call upon the widest range of talent possible and invite leaders in all sectors to make a sustained effort to change the game.
Now I would like to turn to outlining an agenda for what the College Board, together with its partners, might do to begin to take down these walls. But before I do that, I wanted to give you a moment to stretch and refresh your minds, and then we can begin to outline an agenda for the future together.
As we have talked about earlier, in order to bring down a wall – you need an idea. You need a strong force. So I have been thinking – is there an idea at the heart of the College Board? To find that idea – let’s look at the success of AP – what is the idea that propels that success? I believe that we have improved both diversity and performance in AP because it delivers rigorous work worth doing, and engages students and teachers in that work. Teachers and students rise to the challenge that AP represents – demanding assessments, and demanding course work brings up their game. So I think there is an idea at College Board – and that idea is that the repeated practice of rigorous work worth doing – can achieve equity and excellence. There is no way to become excellent except by deliberate practice. There is no way to achieve equity and excellence except by ensuring that all students are engaged in that high quality practice, that rigorous work worth doing.
My focus on high-quality practice may seem strange in an institution famous for the Scholastic Aptitude Test – now called the SAT. Words like aptitude have an unclear ring – are we testing something innate or something achieved? In my view, the evidence is now clear – a great deal of research has been conducted on high performance in many fields, and that the most striking result is whatever their “gifts” – what most marks high performers in very different areas— is their shared commitment to deliberate practice. No one knows what combination of inborn talent and effort get you to excellence – but I can tell you there is no such thing as excellence without a foundation in practice, no such thing as excellence that is not the accumulation of practice. If we are indeed committed to equity and excellence, we thus therefore do whatever we can do to propel all students into the practice required for excellence.
So why do I add rigorous work worth doing? Well, let’s be honest, not everything rigorous, or difficult, is worth doing. For example, there are many difficult people – who are not difficult in any interesting way, but just not worth dealing with. So what sorts of challenges represent work worth doing?
First, work worth doing dares to focus on what matters most. Such work is not accomplished by shallow surveys but by in-depth knowledge and practice.
Second, academic work worth doing is not narrow; it requires work in not only math and English but science, history, and the arts.
And perhaps most beautifully and importantly, rigorous work worth doing is not for some but for all students. The beauty of education is that hard work that stretches you is not only good for advanced students – it is the only work that can accelerate students when they are behind. I believe that excellence is the most democratic idea there is – that is, only by demanding excellence of all can we hope for equity.
A final way to define work worth doing is that it makes you truly ready: ready for work, ready for college, ready for citizenship – ready to live more fully. And such work makes you ready for a world that is changing.
But it is perhaps too easy to describe a successful education as one that makes you ready for the demands of college, career, or even political life. Let’s start with the easy one – politics. Are any of us satisfied with the quality of the political conversation in this country today, with the regard for evidence, with our nation’s ability to discuss our real challenges? We need an education that prepares our students not just to participate in a political conversation but to change it.
Let’s take business and the world of work. After the events of the past four years, could anyone argue that business as usual is OK? We cannot ignore the corruption of so many business institutions or the fact that so many companies are dreary places to work where true innovation and productivity are rare. Education should not just ready students for work but to make sure the work is worth doing, to not just design but redesign.
And I hope I won’t offend my friends in higher education to say – that it is perhaps time that we stopped talking about readying students for college as if college were a perfectly operating nirvana in which access means salvation. Today it is clear that our current models of higher education face real challenges of productivity, engagement, and completion.
So let’s not think about K-12 education as a funnel – into perfect institutions. Today in America, we need to ready students not just to enter our societies’ institutions but to reinvigorate them.
How then can the College Board contribute to rigorous work worth doing? As we use that lens to look at the College Board’s work I believe we can divide it into four parts: Delivering rigorous work worth doing (programs like AP). Readying students for rigorous work worth doing (supports we provide for students and teachers in our programs). Measuring rigorous work worth doing (assessments such as SAT, PSAT). Ensuring access to rigorous work (College Access, Financial Aid). In the center lie our goals of excellence and equity, with a foundation in evidence. We must continue to sharpen our action in response to results, in response to what the evidence shows.
First, delivering rigorous work worth doing. Today, our most widespread program is AP. What’s most striking is that AP is perhaps alone in American education in delivering rigor at scale. If you look at an AP course across state and district lines, you find comparable rigor – this is sadly not true if you looked at 4th grade or 7th grade classrooms. It is somehow both reliably demanding and light weight enough to travel. These are the qualities we must look for if we are going to extend the success of AP further
The great strategic challenge to the College Board is that unless rigor is delivered at scale in earlier grades there is no way we can bring down the walls I described. We need to figure out how to bring the promise of rigorous work worth doing more broadly to the high school and, of course, middle school. We have begun that work with programs like Springboard, which provides an in depth approach to achieving rigor in middle school. But we need an approach to middle school that is broader – like AP. How can we design something lightweight but powerful?
The second dimension of the College Board’s work is readying students for rigorous work worth doing. We can do a great deal to provide rigorous coursework and assessments, but can we really change the game unless we provide far more effective supports so that students and teachers are ready for rigor? Today, we do a good deal to support teachers and students in courses such as AP. But it may be time to take it to the next level. Once again, let’s turn to teachers for inspiration. As many of you know, a generation of great AP teachers is close to retirement. Instead of a loss, can we see this as an opportunity? Using technology, can we help this generation of teachers tutor a generation of low income students in AP courses? As we examine this exciting area I think a principle must guide us. We must consider students within AP and other College Board programs as “within our care,” and continue to search for productive supports that can truly make a difference.
The third part of the College Board’s work is measuring rigorous work worth doing. It is my belief that we must perhaps realign our assessment work to reinforce our core mission. I think the essential idea is that, as an organization that designs assessment, the College Board must take responsibility for the practice that our assessment inspires. That is we should never assess anything we do not want students to do 100 times. What might that mean?
Let’s take a look at SAT. The quality of the texts is high, and the math challenges students to solve unfamiliar problems. The question facing us once more is can we take it to the next level? I want to be careful to say in a clear voice that any changes in SAT require the team, the trustees, and our partners in higher education to agree. The real question is can we make a revision of SAT a victory for everyone – more aligned with what colleges need as well as better work for kids. I think we can.
Let’s take writing. It is a great breakthrough that the SAT added writing. But on SAT, when you write you are asked to give examples, but you are not scored on the accuracy of your evidence or examples – you are rated only on your writing skills. My friend is a tutor in Hong Kong and kids asked her where they should get their examples for their SAT essays. She said – “you make them up; it’s the American way.” Now I am all for creativity and imagination, but I am not sure that this is the kind of creative license we want to encourage. What if students instead analyzed source materials on the SAT when they wrote –then values like analysis, precision, accuracy matter – and those values are essential for college writing and career writing.
I am sure some of you have memories, as I do, of studying what has infamously been called SAT vocabulary – called SAT words because it included so many words you had never seen and words you might never see again. But what if SAT vocabulary instead focused on the words you most need to succeed the academic language common to all complex texts which is the true language of power – words like synthesis, analysis, transformation – these are words that are worthy of practice. Students need to practice the words they will see again.
Similarly shouldn’t the SAT math section focus on the math you most need to succeed in a wide range of college courses and career opportunities. Following high performing countries, shouldn’t we dare to focus on the math that matters most for future success? Then practicing for SAT reinforces core mastery. It also means the SAT would reflect the core of math students have been working on in school – so it would be a far more natural outgrowth of the work that they have been doing.
Only if we align SAT with the work that matters most for college and career readiness, can we truly align SAT with the Common Core Standards, for they are based on the same evidence and principles.
Measuring rigorous work worth doing is not only about assessment. The College Board plays a special role standing in between higher education and K-12. For example, we convene admissions officers from around the country from a wide range of higher education institutions. Perhaps we can work together with our admissions officers and higher education leadership to ensure that the work students do to get admitted to college is work worth doing. For example, let’s talk about the essay students write to get into college.
For very good reasons, the essay widely required for entrance is the personal essay. Students are asked to provide a compelling narrative of themselves and their growth. And there are significant benefits to this in sharing aspects of themselves not seen in other parts of the process, and the personal essay can play a key role in ensuring diversity on campus. But we must admit there is a heavy cost for the sole reliance on the personal essay to get in to college. It’s effect on the high school writing curriculum is dramatic - today the most popular form of writing in the American high school is a narrative of personal experience or opinion – why – because that’s the kind of writing that is the most high stakes, it gets you into college. It’s the one essay that students write that really matters.
But while it may get you in, the personal essay is not going to help that much when you are in college. In what percentage of first year college courses – much less job opportunities – is a personal essay sufficient for success? What advances you in college and career is not just writing your opinion or experience but making arguments supported by evidence, and conveying information clearly.
So what if we worked together with admissions officers and higher education leaders to ensure that the personal essay for admission is complemented by an analytic essay, in which students evaluate sources, and ideas. Students would show their ability to draw on evidence. That would be work worth doing, and practicing.
The fourth area of the College Board’s work is providing access to rigorous work doing and supporting students in completing college. The College Board has long done great work to help students get financial aid, to match students to colleges, and provide supports throughout the transition process. And with the help of talented researchers, the College Board’s work in this has revealed patterns of data that can take our work to the next level and achieve greater impact. What we have seen is a surprising pattern– many, many diverse low income students who perform at a high level do not wind up getting access to the rigorous opportunities they have earned. Let me outline the data for you:
In AP minority students who show the same readiness on PSAT to do well in AP are less likely to actually take AP. Let’s take the case of AP math. Among every 10 students with solid readiness for AP math, the participation rates are 6 out of 10 Asian students, 4 out of 10 white students, 3 out of 10 Latino students, and 3 out of 10 African American students.
We find a similarly disturbing pattern in SAT data. As many as 40,000 students each year who do very well on SAT do not wind up going to college. The Strategic Data Fellows at Harvard have found a similar pattern working with urban school districts. A surprising percentage of high performing students in assessments and grades do not wind up going to college.
The third surprising pattern we see in the data is the large number of high performing low income students who do not pursue the most rigorous College opportunities - they do not even apply to more selective college for which they are highly qualified. The problem is that when low income students choose less rigorous choices their chances for success plummet – they often don’t even complete college altogether. And research in North Carolina, among other research, has shown that students do not pursue more selective colleges even when the costs are equal. So this is not simply about money.
It appears this pattern may be particularly true in the Latino community, and among Latina girls – although it happens across all ethnic groups and disproportionately in low income children. There are walls in our society, perhaps in our families, which keep talented Latina girls and so many high performing students “close to home” rather than going to a college that stretches them. If we believe in excellence and equity, those walls must fall.
The good news is that before I started as President – the data I have shared with you had begun to galvanize the College Board into action. Now, as the new President, we will take that work to the next level and do everything in our power to ensure that those who can go, do go; that as a country we do not let our talented low income students languish but reward their hard work and practice by propelling them into opportunities.
In this effort, we will draw upon the remarkable strength of our members. Our members include guidance counselors and financial aid experts, all whom can play a pivotal role in connecting students with opportunities. And perhaps we need to do more with our network of 100,000 AP teachers to enlist their aid in supporting students in taking critical next steps. And maybe students have a role to play as well – they too are our alumni, and maybe it is students reaching out to other students that will prove one of the most powerful forces of all. From this day forward, I hope the members of the College Board, as well as the students and teachers at the heart of our work – will join us in an effort to change these outcomes and achieve equity and excellence in this country.
I have talked about what we might do, let me go one step further and talk about what we might dare? How about teacher education? How about career technical education? And should we do more in higher education? We have begun to do some good work supporting college completion with the completion arch. But should the College Board take a broader role in helping higher education institutions reduce remediation and ensure completion?
Let me dare a little bit more broadly. Let’s talk for a moment about our international work. One part of that is enabling students from overseas to take SAT and attend American colleges. We have done some exciting work providing the SAT as a pathway for underserved students in places like Zimbabwe. But perhaps there could be a broader effort, aimed a delivering opportunity.
In too many societies, the access to success or even showing your talents is controlled by narrow forces. We have seen terrifying examples of this recently in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Maybe the College Board can someday help lead an effort so that both girls and boys in more closed societies have a clearer path to show what they have got. Girls and boys should know that if they have been studying quietly, even in secret, they can show what they know in a loud way and the world will hear. A test may be a small thing, but it can be a big step towards access. Is it too much to hope there would someday not just be national merit scholars from this country but global scholars whose access is accelerated by getting easy access to exams that show their potential?
Before you fear that I am completely out of control in hoping to take on the world’s problems, you should know that while I love thinking broadly, I love even more to focus on few things – get them right, earn the right to do more. I date lots of ideas, but I marry few of them. Perhaps the hardest part of these next few months will be working with our team, trustees, and members to figure out what things are highest priority and in what order we should pursue them. But what will unite all our action is that it must deliver equity and excellence. All of our programs should support rigorous work worth doing that makes students ready for college, career, and citizenship. All of them must deliver opportunity.
One reason we can have some confidence in our potential for success is that the ideas I have outlined today build on a long legacy at the College Board. George Hanford launched the Educational Equality Project in 1980. Former President Don Stewart built the Equity 2000 project which spotlighted the importance of algebra as a key foundational success factor to student academic achievement and introduced the College Board to district-level, on-site intervention. It was then that the College Board took its initial tentative step from the role of gatekeeper to actual change agent. Now, more recently during Gaston's tenure, we saw the emergence of the Florida Partnership with its breakthrough results, and the steady growth in access to AP and minority participation.
Now, faced with walls that have stood for 40 years we are called to bring this work to the next level. Who then is going to do all this work – who has the power to get this done? If you are an admissions officer, if you are in guidance, if you are in financial aid, if you teach children, if you are a student, if you work at the College Board you have part of that power. I will ask you to please stand up. If you are a journalist who will report the truth– and through that help us see what is really happening, if you are an education leader committed to equity and excellence, if you are a trustee of this institution and committed to changing our world, please stand. If you are not here in person but hearing these words, I ask you to please stand and be counted.
If you too want to take down a wall, please join us. We need ideas, we need an army. And here we are, together. Thank you so much.