College and Career Preparedness
By Robert Ballinger, Worthington Kilbourne High School (retired), OFLA Past-President 2000-2001
After having taught French in both public and private high schools for 34 years, I have been able to observe how successful students learn. Everything about teaching students who wrestle with acquiring a facility in a World Language I have learned from many hours of discussions with my wife, Dr. Virginia Ballinger, herself a Spanish language educator for over 32 years and from many trusted colleagues who care passionately about student success. So, listen up, folks, and let me tell you a story.
Four years ago, I started volunteering in our local public high school because of a newspaper article that said that 45% of incoming freshmen at The Ohio State University needed to take remedial classes over material they should have learned in high school. I was shocked. Of course, remedial classes don’t count toward their college degree and are not free. So many of these students get discouraged, drop out, and often find themselves saddled with student debt. At a community feed-back meeting on our local public school district’s proposed strategic plan, I found out that the district’s administrators had no idea what percentage of our district’s graduates had to take remedial classes. The moderator of the meeting said he had heard someone from a local college refer to remedial classes as a “cash cow.” That made me mad. I asked, “So are you suggesting that the college is profiting from our inability to prepare students for college?” The silence was embarrassing. After several weeks of research, I learned that the Ohio Board of Regents does have data showing the percentage of graduates who take remedial classes in public colleges in Ohio. The latest data for our school district indicated that 31% of our local high school’s graduates attending public colleges were required to take remedial (sometimes called “developmental”) classes. So, that’s when I decided to volunteer to see if I could motivate students to make better use of their high school experience.
Now, let me digress a moment to ask a question that, for us World Languages teachers, begs to be answered: How do we know when our students are ready to continue their study of a World Language at the college level? We have the OFLA Vision which states that students will be proficient in a World Language by the time they graduate from high school. But how proficient should they be as they enter college? Perhaps we need to consider the distinction ACTFL makes between “proficiency” (the command of a World Language in most situations, which is a very high standard) and “performance” (the ability to function in many but not all situations, which is a significant yet achievable goal for students. After scores of hours of discussions with trusted colleagues, I would suggest that high school students should be able to perform in a World Language at the Intermediate-Mid level by the time they graduate from high school. I am talking about the Intermediate-Mid level as defined by the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.
If Intermediate-Mid is the goal, how do we know if students have achieved that goal well enough to succeed at the college level? Educators I have spoken with would agree that students earning A’s and B’s in courses where “performance is the criterion” (not “extra credit” or “bonus points” or “showing up on time” and the like), will be ready to do college-level work. Those educators begin to hedge their bets with students who are getting C’s because those students will have to work harder at the next level to keep up. Students getting C’s and D’s shouldn’t even get credit; they haven’t learned enough to succeed at the next level. I have found that World Languages teachers, as well as Art, Drama, Construction Technologies, and Music teachers are in tune with Performance-Based education.
So, let’s get back to my experience helping students to make better use of their time in high school. I billed myself as an “academic coach.” So, I wasn’t surprise when a student stopped me in the hallway between classes. “Hey, Mr. Ballinger, can you help me?” He said his name was Isaiah and that he had heard my presentation about A B Ready in Study Hall and about being prepared to do college work by the time students graduate from high school. “I got mostly C’s and D’s during my freshman and sophomore years, but now I’ve decided I really want to go to college. Can you help me?” Isaiah and I met to see how I could help him to be more successful in school. He said his first quarter grades were C’s and D’s. I pulled up his current second quarter grades on a computer and noticed he had two B’s which surprised me. I asked him how he managed to raise his grades in those two classes. He said he started doing all his homework and that he asked more questions in class. I complimented him on his added effort. He smiled shyly and said he wanted to do better. We looked at the breakdown of how his teachers figured his grades. In one class he needed to study harder for quizzes; in another class he had to clarify the teacher’s expectations. I noticed one grade was a 78% and asked Isaiah if he thought he could nudge that grade up to a B. He said he would try. By the end of the first semester he had three B’s. During the third quarter, I asked him which of his three B’s he could raise to an A. He said he had never received an A in any class in high school. With more coaching, he did raise one B to an A. By the end of the year Isaiah had three B’s and two A’s.
After three years, I had worked with students individually as well as in small and large groups. I also worked with parents so that they could take on the role of “academic coach” with their own children. At that point, we launched a website version of the A B Ready program (abready.com) so that students, parents, and educators can freely access this useful tool. The A B Ready website has short videos that explain the program including the A B Code, a list of ten habits of successful students. There is even a free e-book for World Language teachers on how to create a proficiency-based curriculum, a program of study which includes the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, the New Ohio Learning Standards for World Languages, Integrated Performance Assessments, and the NCSSFL I Can Statements. You can see and hear Ginny as she introduces each section of the book.
Ginny and I hope that students, parents, and educators will visit us at abready.com. Our contact information is on the website. We welcome your comments and suggestions. We look forward to hearing from you.