Lincoln-Way West Director uses doctoral research to develop ideas for future curriculum
Tuesday, March 28, 2017

As a member of the first graduating class of the University of St. Francis doctoral program, Dr. Holly Pierson’s research was recently highlighted by one of the university’s professors. In mid-February of 2017, in the first and second issues of “Research You Can Use,” Dr. Keith Pain shared two dissertations with current and former students. With this initiative, the university highlights specific research for area educators so that they may stay current on the latest studies in education.

“I think it’s exciting to be one of the first people in the University of St. Francis cohort because if you look at the program now, there are a lot of teachers in the area who have jumped on,” says Pierson, who graduated as a Doctor of Educational Leadership in May of 2015. “It’s a really different program because you write the dissertation within the program. By the time you finish classes, you have a full product.”

Pierson began the program already knowing she had an avid interest in college and career readiness. “College and career readiness was something that was brand new when Common Core came out,” she says. “Since I had been a career and technology teacher my whole life, college and career readiness was really close to my heart.”

For her dissertation, Pierson decided to research the relationship between college and career readiness and the rigor of high school math classes. To do so, she analyzed the Lincoln-Way District’s class of 2014 ACT test scores, as well as WorkKeys test scores. (At the time, WorkKeys was an exam by which the state of Illinois measured career readiness.) Her results found that there was a strong positive relationship between the rigor of high school mathematic coursework and college and career readiness as measured by the two state tests.

“For me, career readiness is more than just being ready for a job, because all of our students—whether they go to college or not—need to be ready for a job. One way or another, that ACT measure is a great predictor,” she says.

Pierson analyzed the test scores of approximately 2,000 students, also examining the students’ grade point averages in comparison with their math reasoning skills. “I looked at high achieving students, students who meet expectations, as well as remedial math students. But looking at our schools in general in the state of Illinois, we’re missing a piece. We’re one of those states that you don’t need to pass the test in order to graduate from high school. So if they found you had poor skills, there was no consequence. If that’s such an important test, then something should be done with the results.”

With this dissatisfaction, Pierson has begun planning to find ways to improve school curriculum and cater to students at all different math levels. “I’m excited that in our district, the idea is to work toward offering a dual credit class that will be a remedial math class. Then, students will be able to take that class as a fourth year of math, so that if they do decide go onto college, they’ll be able to start with a credit bearing class. I’m excited that that’s where we’re going in the future.”

As standardized testing continues to evolve in Illinois, Pierson doesn’t shy away from the potential to collect more data and use the results to improve the experiences for Lincoln-Way students. “I’m excited about the changes; I love the changes and I really see a benefit in implementing rigorous courses for students who have various post high-school plans.”