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Self Assessment Guide for College & Career Academies and Small Learning Communities

The original version of this guide was made possible by funding from the Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. It was revised and updated in 2014 with support from The James Irvine Foundation.

The criteria used to assess College & Career Academies in this guide were developed to reflect the National Standards of Practice for Career Academies. The most recent revision has incorporated recent best practices in the Career Academy movement, in particular the Linked Learning work on self assessment for continuous improvement, as represented by the ConnectEd OPTIC self assessment tool for Linked Learning pathways, based on the seven Essential Elements of High Quality Pathways in Linked Learning.

Charles Dayton
David Stern


Introduction and Purpose

In order to assess how completely a College & Career Academy and/or Small Learning Community (SLC) is implemented in any given site, and to connect the degree of implementation with the amount of improvement in student performance, two kinds of information are needed. The first is information on the quality of implementation, which can be collected by academy staff or outside observers, to assess how well the SLC/academy features have been established. The second is data on student performance, the kind normally kept by schools and districts, which can give a picture of who is enrolled in academies, whether their course-taking experience is consistent with the academy model, and how their performance is affected as a result.

To assist in collecting implementation information, this Guide begins with a Self-Assessment Checklist and Scoring Guide. The three sections of this—Small Learning Communities, Curriculum and Instruction, and Partnerships with Employers, Community, and Higher Education—derive from the definition of Career Academies agreed to by the organizations working to support them nationally, supplemented by more recent guidelines for evaluating Linked Learning pathways and SLCs. The requirements of California’s Partnership Academies are also considered.

The purpose of the Checklist is twofold. One is to obtain an indication of how well the Academy/ SLC stacks up against national and state criteria for quality implementation. To calculate a score, check the circle corresponding to the point value for each indicator and add the points. The top score possible is 100. If the Academy/ SLC is not yet fully implemented, some of the items will be inappropriate (e.g., post-secondary plan, mentor/ internship/ community service programs), and the scoring can be adjusted accordingly.

A second and perhaps more important purpose of the Checklist is to identify each SLC’s/ Academy's relative strengths and weaknesses and initiate a process of reflection and improvement. Notes concerning each indicator can be included, such as what parts of the component are well implemented or need attention, and what needs to be done to improve. Comparisons can be made among the three sections and the components within each to see which features are strongest and weakest. This process is best done by a team, so teachers, administrators, and partners involved can explore options and define paths toward improvement.

There is a second brief section on Analyzing Student Data that includes suggestions for compiling and analyzing commonly available data for measuring Academy/ SLC effectiveness. This can answer three kinds of questions:

• Demographics—Do Academy/ SLC students represent a cross section of the school?
• Program experience—Does student course taking reflect the Academy/ SLC design, preparing students for both college and career?
• Student outcomes—Are Academy/ SLC students showing improved attendance, retention, credits, grades, test scores, graduation rates, and college entrance rates?

As explained in this section, these questions can be addressed by:
• Comparing snapshots over time for an individual Academy/ SLC
• Analyzing year-to-year changes for individual students
• Relating program characteristics to student performance