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College Counseling in Los Angeles: Research-Driven Change, Part 2

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This week we are hearing from the Los Angeles Education Research Institute (LAERI: @LAEdResearch). Today's post is the practitioner perspective on Monday's post: Supporting College Access and Success: Findings from Los Angeles and Thursday's post: College Readiness in Los Angeles: Research-Driven Change, Part 1.

This post is part 2 of an interview with Carol Alexander, Director of A-G (College Readiness) at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD: @LASchools), about the research conducted by the Los Angeles Education Research Institute (LAERI) research-practice partnership.

The research and activities mentioned throughout this post were generously supported by the College Futures Foundation (@CollegeFutures) and the Mayer and Morris Kaplan Family Foundation. 

LAERI: As you know, our report on college readiness supports found, among other things, that counselors had limited time to spend specifically on college counseling and on individualizing their support for students during the college and financial aid application process. Did these or other findings influence your planning or implementation for the College Readiness block grant?

Carol Alexander (CA): The findings you shared about the college readiness supports pointed to the need to build greater capacity around college counseling. We wanted to build the capacity of teachers, administrators, and all counselors - not only college counselors. We know that college counseling cannot be the responsibility of just one person, particularly at large high school campuses. Through the grant, we were able to add counselors to our school sites, based on an "equity index," increasing our supports for our neediest students.

The grant is also supporting our "College Counseling Collaborative," allowing college counselors to develop professional development for teachers, administrators, and other counselors. Also built into our grant is a collaboration with California State University, Los Angeles, through its teacher training program. Teachers, counselors, and administrators can receive 120 hours of face-to-face instruction and 240 hours of assignments about college counseling. [This program provides staff with eight salary points.] The district's Division of Instruction will also collaborate with the Parent and Community Services branch to develop professional development for parents.

Your findings also greatly influenced the district's decision to contract with a service provider that can help build student awareness and understanding of postsecondary options and assist counselors in tracking students' progress through the college application process. Given counselors' limited time and reported need for technological support to track each student, the district felt that an online tracking tool like Naviance would give them more time to meet with individual students. We have identified common activities at each grade level that students will complete to develop competency around the application process by the time they enter 12th grade.

Also, as part of our ongoing partnership with LAERI, a district team went to Chicago with LAERI researchers to learn more about the research-practice partnership and their projects there [The UChicago Consortium on School Research, with projects including the To and Through Project, and close collaboration partners including the Network for College Success and Chicago Public Schools]. We learned a great deal about how similar issues are being tackled in the Chicago context. We also observed site-based Postsecondary Leadership Teams (PLTs) facilitated by the Network for College Success. We plan to roll out these types of teams next year. These teams will review and monitor data on the college-going culture and climate at their school, the development of student agency, as well as student progression through the college application process.  

LAERI: Has this research or the discussions that have emerged from the partnership influenced your thinking about research and evaluation?

CA: We know research and evaluation are essential to our instructional initiatives, to inform practice and the effectiveness of program development or action steps. Having a close collaboration with LAERI has helped bring this into focus, and we are grateful to have those ongoing conversations. There is not necessarily a natural internal focus or the budgetary freedom to expend resources toward relevant research and evaluation. Having a research partnership like the one we have with LAERI is a necessary component to helping us reflect on our practice and make improvements.

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