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REL Pacific

Transition Courses and College and Career Readiness in the Pacific Region

REL Pacific
Max Altman
September 12, 2018


On August 31 and September 1, REL Pacific (along with partners from the Carnegie Math Pathways program at WestEd) visited the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to deliver our first training session on designing a grade 12 mathematics transition course to help more students in reaching and passing credit-bearing math at Northern Marianas College (NMC). This ambitious project consists of six multi-day sessions between now and the end of summer 2019. During these sessions, stakeholders from the Public School System (PSS) and NMC, including teachers, professors, principals, department chairs, and leadership, will identify goals for student success, identify key factors that impact those goals and changes that can support educational improvement, and design curriculum that will enable them to reach their goals. In addition, stakeholders will plan accompanying professional development, assessment, implementation approaches, and a range of other processes to ensure that the course is effective and beneficial for students. Much of this work will be done outside of REL Pacific training and coaching sessions by three collaborative teams made up of members from both PSS and NMC who will be responsible for working together to design course materials, develop instructional supports, and ensure effective implementation.

stock image of students in hallway

High school students in school hallway between classes.

This project was developed in response to concerns from our partners in CNMI and elsewhere that too many students entering college are placed into developmental education and that too many of those students never pass (or, in the case of more than two thirds, even attempt) credit-bearing math, which is required for graduation. To address this issue, the course under development will not be a traditional high school course. Instead, it is being written to college standards and will be designed collaboratively by both high school and college math instructors. The goal of the course is to ensure that students develop the skills they need to enter and pass MA 132, the first credit-bearing math class at NMC. These skills include not only mathematical knowledge, but also characteristics like study skills, motivation, and perseverance, sometimes called non-cognitive competencies. There is substantial evidence that these competencies have a major influence on students' ability to succeed in a college environment, where expectations and procedures can be very different from what they are used to from high school.

During sixteen successful hours of work at the Aqua Resort in Saipan, stakeholders identified a goal to increase the percentage of students who pass credit-bearing math at NMC and drew on local data to understand the current system and identify factors that impact student outcomes, as well as to begin to suggest possible ways to make changes related to those factors in ways that can increase student success. Along the way, they learned more about the process of improvement science, an approach to educational change that focuses on understanding how outcomes are produced and carefully thinking through possible leverage points to change those outcomes through design, testing, and redesign of a range of changes at varying levels. Our partners at Carnegie Math Pathways call that “learning fast to implement well,” and this approach avoids the common problem of suggesting solutions before one truly understands a problem.

By the end of the training session, implementation, course design, and instructional support teams had been formed and stakeholders had mapped the process through which students enter NMC, discussed nuances of their goal (which they will continue to develop and refine in the coming weeks), identified some key factors that impact student outcomes, proposed some initial change ideas, and, perhaps most important, collaborated between organizations to share insights and understandings of education in the CNMI and to together identify key approaches for supporting more students in achieving educational and life success. Participants showed their deep care for students in CNMI through the serious and intensive work they did and through their positive collaborative engagement. REL Pacific is proud to support this work, and very excited to provide whatever partners need to ensure that more students in CNMI can achieve college success and better support themselves, their families, and their communities.