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Really Ready: Preparing Middle and High School Students for College, Work and Life

Using digital curriculum to ensure deeper learning and develop key skills for student success

The world of work is quickly redefining what it means to be ready—a broader set of goals that reflect fast-paced, complex and diverse workplaces. Students need to be great communicators, collaborators and critical thinkers who can tackle novel problems. To prepare students to be really ready for their futures, we must define what that means for them now—not just once they graduate from high school.

In this web seminar, the assistant superintendent for academic interventions at the Houston ISD and the CEO of Getting Smart discussed college and career readiness, highlighted the key characteristics and skills of students who are really ready, provided examples of successful districts and schools, and shared resources to help provide a path to success for all students.

Getting Smart

When I was a superintendent, when I thought about readiness, it was having the credits to graduate and being able to pass a community college entrance exam so that you could earn college credit without remediation. But we know today that we need to go well beyond that to make sure that students are not only able to earn college credit, but have the dispositions and skills to finish post-secondary learning and to be successful on the job.

We also want to think about readiness not just as something for 10 years down the road, but ready tomorrow to be a better student, a better friend, a better community contributor. Social and emotional skills come to the forefront. The ability to self-manage, to get along with other people, to work on diverse teams; these skills have never been more important. Written and oral communication have to be a priority across the curriculum.

Assistant Superintendent
for Academic Interventions
Houston ISD

We’ve seen a lot of students learning to communicate with each other in discussion forums and in digital ways. We’ve also seen the blending of kids using digital tools to gain information while they’re working in cooperative groups on their project in ways that I think takes communication to the next level. They’re able to chat simultaneously with someone else in a digital format while talking to each other in person.

One of the hardest skills is to self-manage and to get along with others and work on diverse teams. It turns out these digital messages are allowing everyone to understand who’s contributing and at what level, so it adds to great conversation when debriefing the project.

Vander Ark: Also, students today need more than ever to be self-directed.

Blasingame: Students are taking control of their learning and setting the pace, and they like it. That’s the nature of the beast. The students want to be let out of the box and this is giving them a little way to do it in every school.

Vander Ark: Do you have tips on self-direction as you introduce more digital content in middle and high school? How do you help them develop that skill?

Blasingame: First, ensure ease of access. We do integrations that allow this to be at the fingers of students more and more. We now have some new tutorial options for students and we are making sure to push them out directly to kids and their parents so that it’s not funneled through the school. I also think it’s a matter of teaching philosophy—that teachers understand that their job is to help students solve their problems and find the information and gauge that information for its validity. We have embedded the idea of teaching students those skills in every content area, across the content areas.

Vander Ark: Let’s talk about all the ways that you’re using digital content. You have a lot of different entry points and strategies.

Blasingame: Last year we had 4,097 completed credit recovery courses. Those are often done in a blended format. Sometimes it’s done all virtually, but there’s always the support of a teacher. We have a lot of ways that face-to-face teachers pull in digital content. More and more we have schools that are flipped schools by design.

We have many winter, spring and summer bridge programs. If you can find, for example, one certified teacher in the area of science, you can have students come in and be able to work, because in the digital content they’re able to work from their mastery. You can see what the students know and let them work on just what they need, because the teacher is there to provide a scaffold.

We’re also pushing ourselves to get students truly college-ready. We have lots of different partnerships and we have found that we’re able to provide those students support for SAT prep, for higher-level work through our digital tutorials, and so on. When students are struggling and need intervention, that’s another time we are able to pull in digital content just for the need—the idea of re-learning concepts before they ever fail a course.

Strategic Partnerships
Apex Learning

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Apex, we are the nation’s leading provider of digital curriculum in the secondary space. We provide effective digital curriculum for every student at the middle school and high school levels, and that’s so they can individualize and personalize their own learning. They can take it home, they can do it at school, they can do it at grandma’s house, and they can do it on any device.

Houston has leveraged everything we have with all of their students, and they’ve had tremendous success. The first thing that Houston does is set high expectations for their students. so that they develop the key skills for success in high school, college and beyond. Apex Learning’s digital curriculum enables students to learn by doing in a way that’s relevant and engaging—it’s a project, it’s something that would apply to their life, and that’s a key difference with Apex.

When they’re in the content, every 10 to 15 seconds our students will see something, do something, say something, move something. They’re going to engage and interact with it. That keeps motivation high.

The other thing Apex provides is support and scaffolds for students who are English language learners, below-proficient readers or have specific learning disabilities. Students can move at their own pace, whether they’re ready to accelerate or need more time to develop mastery of specific concepts. That’s why we see such high completion rates and such student achievement.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit: