Friday, September 18, 2015

The Possibilities and Challenges of Dual Enrollment for Assessment and Beyond

By Dan Hickey
My colleague James Willis was kind enough to introduce me to Emily Swafford who is the Programs Manager at the American History Association.  I emailed Emily about our several promising forays into history education, including our work with Chris Hitchcock to develop new participatory online courses at Indiana University High School and our initial discussion of the Dual Enrollment courses supervised by Indiana University's Advance College Project.  It just so happens that the current issue of the AHA's news magazine Perspectives on History just published a timely special issue on dual enrollment that was full of ideas we care about here at RMA.  In particular, it illustrated the complex challenges that emerge for assessment around dual enrollment in general and in particular when states mandate things like DE and get directly involved in school curricula.

The AHA's special issue provides a great overview of the possibilities and challenges of Dual Enrollment. It is quite concise and provides a very balanced set of perspectives that were all very well articulated and warranted (would we expect anything less from historians?).  Here is a summary of the high points for me.

Julia Brookins' introduction is a good place start if you are new to DE.  She points out that "There is every reason to believe that DE is here to stay." Her summary of DE offerings illustrates how DE is contributing to the rapid pace of change in higher ed:
Change is happening rapidly, without much attention from academics. College courses are being offered in a variety of settings to serve more students earlier. In Texas, for example, the state’s required introductory college history courses are offered in five instructional settings: at four-year universities; at two-year colleges; as AP courses in high schools with high school instructors; through regular high schools as DE courses (students travel to the local community college or stay in their school buildings, depending on the course section and the agreement with the sponsoring higher-education institution); and at special “early college” high schools, created by school districts partnering with the state.
I agree with her that many academics are not paying attention to these changes and that they probably should.

The lead article from AHA Officer Elaine Carey mostly raises concerns about DE in history and concludes: 
Frequently, there is little contact between academic departments and high schools, little collection of assessment data, and no additional resources given to departments whose faculty created and developed the courses in the first place. Periodic visits at the discretion of a chairperson who decides to take on the challenge of DE do not constitute a best practice model for the teaching and learning of history.
 The second article was from Daniel Brandon Swart, a high school dual enrollment teacher in Noblesville IN.  He argues that DE courses serve a very important role for preparing high school students, and believes that “students who take them have an advantage over those who take college-level history courses only when they enter college.”  He quotes a sophomore at the University of Indianapolis who said:
I think students who want to go to college need to take ACP- or AP-level classes. Many students go to college their first semester and struggle, and end up dropping out. Because I took those hard classes in high school, I went to college and earned a 4.0 GPA in my first semester.
I had not given that perspective much thought before this.  When I think about it, both of my children really turned around their study habits when the took their first advanced courses like this.

The third article was from the Indiana University History Prof Alex Lichtenstein who oversees IU's Advanced College Project in History. It was a rather devastating critique.  Through his efforts, Lichtenstein has 
come to have grave doubts about the utility of the program, despite its noble intentions, the dedication of the program’s teachers, and, in our university’s case, rigorous standards and oversight.
Lichtenstein points out that while Indiana essentially requires schools to offer DE courses, the state also requires that these courses be be identical to the college courses they replace.  His extensive observations led him to conclude that “only a small percentage of high school students can—or should be expected to—achieve the demands of a college-level course.” 

Notably for us here at RMA, Lichtenstein did not explore whether technology or online learning might impact the quantity or quality of DE courses.  He did point out pointed out that Indiana's higher ed commission appears to be supporting an online academy offered at one of the regional IU campus, and linked to an interesting article on this and other innovations in DE teacher preparation.  But Lichtenstien seemed doubtful, concluding that "three online graduate courses in history, while certainly helpful, will not necessarily qualify teachers to lead university-level classes."

The final article was by Trinidad Gonzales, a Texas college instructor who teachers both traditional and DE points out how the DE helps overcome the sorts of problems that emerge when conservative politicians get directly involved in curricular decisions.  I read this was interest because my friends at UT Austin have been bemoaning the dwindling number of students enrolling in 100-level courses and the perception that many of those DE students are not prepared for 200-level courses.  I was particularly fascinated by his perspective on the troubling disparity between the pass rate at high school DE courses and the corresponding courses at his college (92% vs 75%).  On one hand, reported that a high school DE instructor reported being pressured to maintain high passing rates.  he goes on to say:
My first reaction, like that of many of my colleagues, was to view these practices as dumbing down a college course. After some thought, however, I realized my initial reaction was naïve. Are extra credit, exam retakes, and credit for late work automatically less rigorous? Other than the issue of doing correct work the first time, there is something to be said for repetition when it comes to writing, which constitutes the majority of work for history assignments and exams. After all, writing and rewriting historical narratives and analyses are part of our trade. Giving students extra-credit assignments that require historical thinking and writing helps build the skill sets we seek within our discipline. Engaging in these teaching methods may require more work for the instructor, but they benefit the student in the end.
Now that was fascinating.  It does seem likely that high-school DE instructors can provide more personalized feedback and additional opportunities to succeed that college instructors. Of course, without some sort of common assessment practices, we can't even begin to know what is really happening. But even if they had a common assessment, there could still be massive variance in how directly teachers prepare their students for that assessment.  

All are pretty interesting issues that I hope my colleagues and I will have opportunities to explore in the coming years.

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