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Learn together, grow together Connecticut. Innovative promising practices

College and Career Readiness

Bristol Expands College Readiness Options

Bristol has a long history of being a school district that is data-driven. When the CSDE implemented its Next Generation Accountability System with indicators focused on College and Career readiness, the leadership at Bristol went to work. They aligned their district goals to the state’s accountability indicators and began partnering intensively with administrative teams and educators at both high schools to figure out ways to open up student enrollment in rigorous coursework like Advanced Placement (AP) and dual enrollment college classes. So how did they do it?

Encourage and Support Educators to Innovate

To get some quick wins a few years ago, the district leadership conducted a review of the offerings at the two high schools. This revealed that there were several courses that could be articulated for college credit through UConn's Early College Experience (ECE) program. The district encouraged the high school principals and educators to identify courses that may be suitable for this purpose. Advanced courses in world languages (e.g., Spanish IV) and University of Connecticut early college experiencebiology were identified. Teachers worked through UConn’s curriculum approval process and received the requisite training to begin offering these courses. Students now get UConn credit and high school credit for successfully completing these courses. The district is working on a Medical Terminology course that they hope to offer next year. 

The district strongly believes that the number one factor that contributes to increased participation and success in advanced coursework is the teacher’s belief that the student can do it. Consequently, they are empowering more teachers to broaden the criteria they use to identify students. While in the past, the cumulative GPA or a single test score might have been the only yardstick used, now teachers are looking at student work in their classroom, their commitment to learning, or also discussing with other teachers about a student’s potential to succeed in rigorous courses. As a result, the percentage of 11th and 12th graders taking rigorous courses (Indicator 5 of the Next Generation Accountability System) has increased from 55.7% in 2014-15 to 68% in 2017-18.

Continuously Improve Postsecondary Partnerships

Traditionally, AP courses in areas like English literature, Physics, and Chemistry were also articulated as UCONN ECE courses. A data analysis revealed that students who were meeting the threshold for Indicator 6 in the Next Generation Accountability System were doing so by meeting the benchmark on the CT SAT School Day; AP was not a big contributor to this indicator in Bristol. Moreover, teachers preferred the scope and sequence of the ECE course over the AP curricula. While this view may change when the College Board revamps its AP curricula, the district in the meantime did not hesitate to decouple the AP expectation from these courses. This allowed educators to do a better job of teaching the standards, while students continued to receive UCONN credit for successfully completing the course. 

Tunxis Community CollegeFrom the CTE perspective, the expectation in Indicator 5 of the accountability system spurred the district to continue its partnership with Tunxis Community College. The district offers two courses in Accounting and Early Childhood Education at both its high schools so students can concentrate in a particular CTE cluster. A third one on Computer Aided Drafting is being planned.

In terms of the AP program itself, contrary to conventional wisdom, the district has observed that as they increased student participation, their pass rate stayed strong. Courses in AP English Language and Composition, AP U.S. Government and Politics, and AP Psychology attracted large numbers of students and exposed them to rigorous, college-level material. The new AP Computer Science Principles courses also attracted some interest but the school day schedule was already too full; that however did not deter the district. Given that a critical mass of students were interested, they offered this computer science course as an after-school independent study. Education and learning is continuing beyond the school day.

Strong Support from Local Board

Bristol has long provided a professional learning program for educators that is focused on improving college readiness, especially for students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education. This program is called AVID – Advancement Via Individual Determination. It is offered at both high schools. Nearly three quarters of students in the AVID program are from low-income families compared to the high school average which is around 40 percent. In Bristol, AVID is not a single class but a multifaceted program. The schools offer mentorship, academics/social supports, electives, and participation in sports/club community. The program also includes a family involvement component. Bristol’s own data analyses reveal that students in the program participate in AP, enroll in college, and persist in college at rates that are similar to, or greater than other students in Bristol.

College Board data also reveal that over the past four years, among students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, Bristol has doubled its participation while also improving their AP pass rate. The district attributes this success squarely to the longstanding AVID program. The local Board of Education commissioners are extremely supportive and proud of this program, as it aligns to their core goal to close the achievement gap.

Bristol Students Speak about the Importance of the AVID Program

Communicate Benefits to Parents/Families

The district is making a concerted effort to explicitly outline the academic and financial benefits of dual enrollment and AP course participation to parents and families (see College Credit Opportunities presentation). Given the increased pathways now available, the district is talking to families as early as the freshmen year to illustrate the college-credit pathways available to students in high school.

Summary

Topic: College and Career Readiness

Strategy:

  • Encourage and Support Educators to Innovate
  • Continuously Improve Postsecondary Partnerships
  • Strong Support from Local Board
  • Communicate Benefits to Parents/Families

District: Bristol Public Schools

District Snapshot: 7,956 students; 36 schools/programs; 47% eligible for free/reduced price meals; 19.5% students with disabilities; 4.6% English learners; 650.0 Full Time Equivalent Educators; $14,281 expenditures per pupil

Contact Information: Carly Fortin, Director of Teaching and Learning, (860) 584-7079, carlyfortin@bristolk12.org