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Brown's Annenberg Institute for School Reform will use a $3 million grant to help school districts gauge their students' preparedness for college.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the grant to the institute in August after the two organizations worked together earlier in the year to plan the grant's use.

"It's a significant grant in dollar terms and in terms of the issues it addresses," said Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, director of district redesign and leadership at the institute. The institute, which was founded in 1993 as a national organization dedicated to non-partisan, non-ideological education policy development and research, relies on grants for much of its funding, she said.

The grant will fund research on college readiness indicator systems, methods of data collection and analysis that would allow school districts to identify and assist students who are ill-prepared for college, Ucelli-Kashyap said.

Many districts already employ similar systems directed toward students who are at risk of failing to graduate, looking at how students' grades, attendance patterns and survey responses predict their likelihood of graduation, she said.

But graduating from high school does not necessarily imply being ready for college.

"It's not the same," said Ucelli-Kashyap, who hopes to shift the focus of indicator systems research "from being ready to get out of high school to being ready to do something after high school."

The research funded by the grant will focus not only on collecting more data, but also on finding previously overlooked connections among existing data and investigating how they affect students' college performance and retention rates, Ucelli-Kashyap said.

Rhode Island's Central Falls School District asks students as early as elementary school to write about their attitudes toward college. But Superintendent Frances Gallo said she would like to develop a more robust indicator system.

"In the past we haven't used indicator systems enough," she said, "We only have anecdotal evidence."

The Annenberg Institute will choose approximately six school districts to take part in the program funded by the grant. The institute is looking for districts that already have some elements of an indicator system in place, Ucelli-Kashyap said.

Once the six are selected, they will be coordinated as "a network with the opportunity to learn from each other and from experts in the field," she said.

Central Falls, a district with which the Annenberg Institute has worked in the past — notably in the wake of this February's controversy over the mass firing of teachers at Central Falls High School — recognizes the importance of monitoring warning signs and hopes to be chosen as one of the participants, Gallo said.

"The red flags start early," she said, "The more we know about our children, the more we can help them."



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