Spring 2023

Feast or Famine in Our Post-Covid Reality

Those of us living in California have been pondering the concept of ‘balance’ a lot lately, having had record-breaking rains and snow accumulation after several years of intense drought. While California’s water budget has always been subject to major swings from year to year, those swings are getting more extreme. It’s an ever-increasing challenge to accommodate the feast or famine dynamics in an equitable manner, where most Californians, regardless of location and profession, are able to live with assurances regarding their basic needs and also have the means to thrive.

On the one hand, the need for innovation and the demand for technical solutions has never been greater. On the other hand, all of that growth carries real costs.

Similar dynamics are in play for many nonprofit organizations in the aftermath of the pandemic, especially those of us who are active in the education space. On the one hand, the need for innovation and the demand for technical solutions has never been greater. Many educational programs and institutions obtained significant boosts in funding to help support the inclusion of more online and technology-supported options. These investments helped to mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic on students across all grade levels, especially in terms of meeting grade-level expectations for learning progress, addressing basic needs, and providing pathways to opportunity as we emerge from the pandemic.

This image is a digital illustration of the sun hiding behind clouds. To the left of the sun is a rainbow and blue sky.

Here at NROC, we were able to accelerate the launch of the Texas College Bridge initiative (powered by EdReady), achieving massive scale in a very short period of time, thereby helping to put many tens of thousands of students all across the state of Texas in a strong position to succeed in their postsecondary studies. We experienced similar growth among many of our other partners, and we saw increased interest in low-stakes placement, flexible co-requisite models, and other approaches that take advantage of EdReady’s online modality, adaptivity and personalization dynamics, and inherent flexibility in implementation.

Considering these events from our mission-based perspective, we were well positioned to support our new and existing partners in navigating the challenges of the pandemic while attending to the real learning needs of our students. You can read more about some of the early outcomes of Texas College Bridge.

This image is a conceptual graph that shows how Texas College Bridge prepares at-risk students to be as successful as their peers. It includes black and white clouds and the sun. The title of the graph is Ideal Outcome: With Intervention. The y axis is academic performance, and the x axis is high school to college.
We are committed to improving educational equity, and Cicero’s determinations, while preliminary, underscore that we are achieving that aim. The Texas College Bridge program, powered by EdReady, closes the readiness gap between at-risk and academically prepared high school students and proves that students who may not perform well on high-stakes standardized tests can be just as successful as their peers who do.

On the other hand, all of that growth carries real costs. Here at NROC, as with student-serving programs and institutions everywhere, we had to shift our focus to ensuring that we could meet the demand. We have made significant and ongoing investments in performance and security, and we are actively reorganizing the composition of our organization—in both staff and activities—to reflect our current priorities as a scaling organization.

Real gains in access and equity are at risk, and institutions are grappling with questions of sustainability and focus over longer time horizons. Here at NROC, we have kept our focus on being an effective institutional partner, where we try to provide a measure of stability and a basis for ongoing innovation in the face of uncertain times and a rapidly changing technological landscape.

In our broader community, we are now seeing how declining enrollments in many sectors, coupled with increased student needs, have put additional stress on educational endeavors. Those stresses have not abated even as available funds are becoming harder to obtain. In conversations with our partners, it was revealed that many innovative and effective programs that were launched or accelerated by emergency funding are now likely to be shut down, leaving the promise of new and improved student-success practices to be set aside for some other day. Real gains in access and equity are at risk, and institutions are grappling with questions of sustainability and focus over longer time horizons.

Here at NROC, we have kept our focus on being an effective institutional partner, where we try to provide a measure of stability and a basis for ongoing innovation in the face of uncertain times and a rapidly changing technological landscape. While we are also grappling with some of the same funding pressures, we continue to pursue engagements that diversify our sources of support and allow us to augment the value of our collective work. The pandemic was certainly a significant event, but in many ways, it was simply another chapter in our 20-year journey as a nonprofit organization.

This image is a graphical timeline of NROC's history, beginning in 2003 and ending in 2023.
Through it all, we have consistently maintained our focus on the thorny problem of substantially improving student readiness and success.

Indeed, our primary activities have shifted over time, starting with finding and curating OER to producing high-quality multimedia courseware to launching the EdReady platform to serving as an intermediary for institutional change to scaling our impact. To some extent, we executed these shifts in response to external events, such as the emergence of smartphones, the explosion of MOOCs, the ascendancy of cloud-based infrastructure, and the spread of broad-scale developmental education redesign. In each case, we considered what role we could play to improve student outcomes, support our existing partners, and extend our reach with new partners and areas of need. Through it all, we have consistently maintained our focus on the thorny problem of substantially improving student readiness and success.

This image is a photograph of members of the NROC community, including NROC's president, Ahrash Bissell. The people in the photo are holding pink bags of treats as they stop for a quick snapshot on the streets of Austin, Texas.
The NROC community, comprised of seasoned changemakers, is a consistent source of inspiration. Despite the dynamic educational climate, these folks remain steadfast.

We see you, friends and colleagues.

We’ve embraced and managed big changes in years past, and we’re actively positioning ourselves for changes to come. For example, we are committing ourselves more deeply to regional partnerships, such as Commit! Dallas (partner to the Texas College Bridge initiative), GlobalMindED (partner for a proposed statewide initiative in Colorado), the Northern California College Promise Coalition (NCCPC), and more. Our obligations in these partnerships span a range of activities, from program design, to technical implementation, to professional development, to encouraging and managing positive institutional or systemic change.

We are also grappling with the seemingly abrupt availability of AI tools, leveraging our expertise and technical capabilities to consider how we might deploy AI-based solutions that actually improve student agency, learning, and engagement. In an effort to reconnect more fully and frequently with our large and dispersed community, we are planning to be more proactive about sharing opportunities to meet up with NROC staff face-to-face, and we’re still exploring options for bringing people together virtually and in-person to share best practices and catch up with each other’s work.

As always, don't hesitate to send me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn. I'd love to hear from you.

Up with students!

— Ahrash

Fall 2022

Equity Impacts, Readiness Gains, and Inspiration

‍This was one of those ‘blink and you might miss it’ summers. Is it really September already? The scope and scale of NROC’s activities have continued to expand such that we don’t experience a summer lull anymore. Indeed, our work has shifted in some meaningful ways.

What We've Learned

After years of collaboration and experimentation with our many institutional partners, we can say quite definitively that EdReady really works.

  • Students across various grade levels, and in many different educational contexts, are effectively utilizing EdReady to improve their college and career readiness and outcomes.
  • Teachers and administrators are using EdReady to recruit more students, better retain those students, and help them achieve their college and career goals.
  • EdReady improves outcomes for most students, but is especially impactful for students of color and other historically underserved populations, proving that EdReady can and should be a key component of equity, diversity, and inclusion strategies.
EdReady works at any scale, from small programs to statewide initiatives. As such, we're doubling down on EdReady as a solution, as opposed to emphasizing its capabilities as a platform for experimentation.
  • EdReady solutions include near-turnkey options for college readiness and course placement in math and English as well as high-school math readiness.
  • EdReady also supports low-barrier solutions for adult educational programs (e.g., GED readiness) as well as co-requisite approaches.
  • Our solution goes beyond the EdReady platform, incorporating explicit time, attention, and human support for effective implementation, including addressing protocol changes, engineering technical integrations, and managing other institutional updates that are key to improving outcomes.

How We're Achieving Reach

With these points in mind, we're reorganizing our awareness-building activities, and our fulfillment processes, in a concerted effort to reach as many people as possible. We've proven that we can manage large and complex initiatives, such as Texas College Bridge, and North Carolina's College and Career Ready Graduate program, while simultaneously supporting partners' local efforts.

To give you a sense of the profound college readiness impact that we're collectively realizing, Texas College Bridge is being utilized by more than 300 school districts and 89% of two-year colleges within the state of Texas. Furthermore, a growing number of Texas universities accept Texas College Bridge completion certificates as indicators of students' college math and English readiness.

This past academic year alone, over 23,000 Texas College Bridge students earned an English certificate and nearly 35,000 students earned a math certificate.

What's more, early efficacy data indicate that students using EdReady who earned Texas College Bridge certificates outperformed students who were placed into credit-bearing courses with a high-stakes placement exam.

Again and again, our partners are demonstrating the significant benefits of doing placement differently.

What's Inspiring Us

As we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we've felt especially energized by the opportunity to reconnect with our colleagues and partners. In June, we held a productive pre-conference session at the GlobalMindED conference where we discussed some organizational shifts with a cross-section of our new and long-term partners.

Dr. Ahrash N. Bissell, Dr. Henry Jackson, and Jason Gipson-Nahman pose for the camera in conference room entryway
Pictured (from left to right): Dr. Ahrash N. Bissell, President, The NROC Project; Dr. Henry Jackson, Executive Director of Academic Success, Ocean County College (NJ); and Jason Gipson-Nahman, Customer Success Manager, The NROC Project, convene at GlobalMindED.

We've enjoyed the stories and outcomes shared among our network, including this podcast from Tohono O'odham Community College in Arizona, featuring two students who used EdReady: Daniella James and Erica Kleinman. Here's how DJ Daniella described her experience with EdReady:

“EdReady is not a one-and-done platform. EdReady is an ongoing resource that helps students grow in math and English. Students are the drivers of EdReady. Students control their EdReady experience. Students have the opportunity to grow with EdReady to help remember math they learned a long time ago or gently learn new math skills to prepare for upcoming coursework. It is honestly such a gift. I used EdReady when I was nervous and scared to take pre-calculus. I enjoy this program because I did not feel like a failure during the entire experience.”

“EdReady is not a one-and-done platform. EdReady is an ongoing resource that helps students grow in math and English. Students are the drivers of EdReady. Students control their EdReady experience. Students have the opportunity to grow with EdReady to help remember math they learned a long time ago or gently learn new math skills to prepare for upcoming coursework. It is honestly such a gift. I used EdReady when I was nervous and scared to take pre-calculus. I enjoy this program because I did not feel like a failure during the entire experience.”

Listen to the entire episode for more, including why DJ Erica thinks EdReady as a low-stakes measure of college readiness is superior to Accuplacer.

Kristin Eberhardt stands in her office holding a blue and white sign with read letters that reads, "On Air"
Special thanks to Kristin Eberhardt (pictured), Title III Project Director at Tohono O'odham Community College (AZ), for her contributions to the podcast and her dedication to student success.

Do you have an institutional or student success story you want us to share with our broader community? If so, drop us a line.

This Fall, and ahead in 2023, we're planning to be at many events around the country, continuing to catch up with our existing partners, connecting with new partners, and helping everyone become aware of our community's work. Look for us at the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships conference next month. We're also working on ideas for additional EdReady and NROC-focused convenings: Stay tuned.

How We're Changing

For those of you who have long been a part of the NROC community, you may know that our Director of Community Engagement, Terri Rowenhorst, retired this year. Terri has been such a key part of NROC practically from the inception of our organization that it's been quite difficult to catalog the many ways she enabled our work, supported our community, and served as a global ambassador for our shared commitment to improving student outcomes.

We wish Terri nothing but the best in her future endeavors and consider ourselves lucky for having had her in the NROC family for so long.In the meantime, we're continuing to augment and reorganize our existing staff to better meet our new priorities. We'll keep you apprised of how our organization evolves. Thank you for your support as we transition to this next phase of our work.As always, don't hesitate to reply to this email or connect with me on LinkedIn. I'd love to hear from you.

Up with students! — Ahrash

Spring 2022

Success, Transition, and Connection

How is it Spring already?

Like you, we’ve had our heads down over here, and it feels like the right time to come up for some air and reconnect. If you don’t know me, I’m Ahrash Bissell, President of The NROC Project, a nonprofit organization that works with educational leaders and institutions to improve student success. To our old friends, we’re sending a spirited fist bump your way!

Some Updates

Despite the sensation of our lives still being on hold (at least somewhat), we’ve witnessed a number of newsworthy events across our community.

We’re growing, and we’re continuing to document positive outcomes.

Today, we have 200 sustaining and strategic partners, representing over 1,700 separate educational institutions and one million students with current access to NROC technologies.

And, recently, we launched our Do Placement Differently campaign, which spotlights how high-stakes placement tests fail students and what members of the NROC community are doing to improve student success and educational equity. Check it out.

Some people have moved on to other things . . .

One of our earliest and most active NROC Ambassadors, Bob Currie of Montana Digital Academy (and founder of EdReady Montana), has retired, as has Susan Barbitta, our equally tireless champion in North Carolina who helped to architect the statewide College and Career Ready Graduate (CCRG) program.

Within NROC, Customer Success Specialist Ben Jacobs has moved to a different organization in furtherance of his career, and our longtime Director of Partnerships, Dani Pedrotti, has decided to retire from this work to pursue other interests. We'll miss our regular interactions with these great colleagues and wish them well in their future endeavors.

. . . and new people are stepping in and up.

We'd like to recognize that certain members of our community have really stepped up in this past year to help us spread the word and reach more students. These all-stars include Dr. Rosslyn R. Knight (Maricopa Community College District, Arizona), Timi Creekmore (Texas College Bridge), Brigette Myers (College and Career Ready Graduate, North Carolina), and Dr. Jason Neiffer (Bob Currie's successor at Montana Digital Academy).]

Truthfully, we're so grateful for every person with whom we interact among our broader community, for you're the ones who transform our solutions into successful student outcomes.

As we've learned how to best support our diverse community of partners, we've been adjusting our staffing and roles accordingly. To that end, Jason Gipson-Nahman has assumed a leadership role within the NROC Customer Success Team. In this past year, we've also added two new people to that team: Jessica Huffman and Josie Marshman. As well, three new people have joined the NROC Partnership Development Team: Zahra Massicotte, Laura Smith, and Mark Gaskins. We're excited for all of you to meet and get to know our new team members.

So, when is the NROC community going to gather in person?

In the past, this time of year would be dedicated to preparing for and hosting our annual community meeting held in beautiful Monterey, California. This special event brought together our incredible secondary, postsecondary, and adult education partners to share insights and generate new ideas around our collective endeavors. However, like so many other facets of our lives, the pandemic demanded that we cancel this inspiring tradition.

We're still not sure what the future holds, nor exactly how pandemic restrictions will continue to influence our lives, but we are sure that we need to find new ways to stay connected and take advantage of whatever opportunities might arise. To that end, I'm issuing a sincere invitation for you to reach out.

An invitation

Whether you reply to this email or @ (at) us on social media, let us know how you're doing, who you're reading or listening to, what aspects of your work get you going in the morning or keep you up at night, and anything else you want to share (animal pics and kiddo pics are always encouraged).

Also, there will be opportunities to meet with us and fellow NROC partners at other established conferences that are returning to face-to-face formats this year. For example, our staff will be attending COABE (in Seattle in mid-April), AACC (in New York City in early May), and GlobalMindED (in Denver in late June—consider registering for the unconference we're hosting there).

In closing

Anyway, thanks for letting me drop into your inbox and say a few words. If you're already a part of our community, we're grateful for your presence and participation, and if you're not yet one of our partners, we hope you'll find a way to join us. We're here to support you and to find more creative ways to be an ally in 2022 and beyond.

In the face of the many challenges in front of us, whether personal, professional, or societal, we hope we can give you a boost and reassure you that you are not alone.

— Ahrash

Fall 2021

Celebrating Community Milestones

It’s Autumn, and school is back in session all across the country. Though the pandemic stubbornly lingers, it feels like we’re emerging into the daylight even as the nights get longer. Thank you to our many partners and collaborators for helping to keep us motivated. Your ongoing commitment to our shared mission and interests has been inspirational, and our work simply wouldn’t be possible without your effort. We want to especially acknowledge the 2021 NROC Ambassadors whom we recognized in a virtual award ceremony over the summer.

EdReady has helped a million students and counting

If anything, the pandemic has heightened the need for all educational institutions to reorganize their policies and procedures to focus squarely on facilitating student success. Most of our existing institutional partners took advantage of the EdReady platform and other NROC resources that they already had in place to expand the number of students served. From single-sign-on to data exports, customized in-app messaging to outreach and recruitment strategies, our staff, led by our dedicated implementation team, have seen a surge in member and partner requests for assistance and responded in kind. We’ve now surpassed a major milestone: over one million students have actively engaged with the EdReady platform, and the usage statistics continue to rise.

A student with curly short, dark hair in a red shirt is seated with a whiteboard in front of desktop computer displaying EdReady

EdReady supports grade-to-grade transitions, adult education, exam preparation, college readiness, and low-stakes, learning-centered college placement.
NROC is having a substantial, positive impact on student readiness and success in critical math and English skills all across the country, and our mission is to bring those same benefits to as many students as possible.

In the face of this increased demand, and additional opportunities borne of the pandemic, we pushed ourselves to resolve a number of strategic priorities that we believe put us in a strong position to sustain our existing relationships and launch new engagements. These commitments reflect the fact that NROC is having a substantial, positive impact on student readiness and success in critical math and English skills all across the country, and our mission is to bring those same benefits to as many students as possible.

On Security

Safeguarding Your Data

AICPA SOC for Service Organizations logo (combination mark)

The EdReady platform, as a learning application, requires that we register students and staff and track their activities. All educational records are considered protected personal information (PPI) and are subject to strict state and federal rules regarding privacy, access, and protection from unauthorized use. We have always had strong technical and procedural controls to maintain application security, but we marshalled additional resources to further improve our security posture and to obtain System and Organization Controls (SOC 2 Type II) security certification with AICPA, a cybersecurity risk management authority. In plain language, this certification means that we take good care of your data. We must be recertified every year and will be maintaining our security status in perpetuity.

In plain language, the SOC 2 Type II certification means that we take good care of your data. We must be recertified every year and will be maintaining our security status in perpetuity.

While strong security and privacy controls benefit everyone, they are particularly critical for us to be able to support large-scale initiatives, such as Texas College Bridge and Ivy Tech’s EdReady-based readiness initiatives, and we anticipate being able to launch and support more such initiatives in this coming year.

On Accessibility

Delivering Inclusive Digital Learning Experiences

EdReady is designed to provide students with readiness pathways that support each student’s personal needs and preferences.

Our attention to universal design and usability includes a commitment to full accessibility for the full range of student abilities and disabilities.

After several years of investing in screen-reader compatibility, multiple representations, alt-text support, keyboard navigation, and a raft of other improvements (some of which we had to invent and share with the broader accessibility community), we're proud to say that we were recently certified for adhering to the AA conformance level of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1). This certification means that students and educators should encounter no barriers to using EdReady in whatever manner they would typically employ to engage with cloud-based software. Supporting technologies continue to evolve, as does EdReady, so we'll continue to make these investments and maintain our certification and remain 100% committed to collaboratively addressing any accessibility issues as they might arise.

On Equity

Democratizing Access to Academic Support

The NROC course materials were built with equity and representation as core concerns. The additional collections hosted by the EdReady platform expand on that commitment by diversifying the bases for learning any of the integrated concepts. Beyond application security, performance, and accessibility, the bulk of our ongoing platform enhancements have focused on providing even more tools for teachers and administrators to effectively support the different needs of their diverse populations. As our partners broaden and deepen their EdReady implementations, we're hoping that these expanded toolsets and capabilities will enable strong connections to student interests, programs of study, and other drivers for student success.

We are actively working with partners who center educational equity as a priority and serve marginalized communities.

In tandem with those improvements, we're actively working with partners who center educational equity as a priority and serve marginalized communities. For example, we have a formal partnership with UPchieve, a nonprofit organization with a mission of democratizing access to academic support. Currently, we’re developing a way to activate access to UPchieve from within the EdReady platform, making it possible for students to obtain virtual, anonymous, real-time support from vetted math tutors. If you’re interested in joining the waiting list to activate UPchieve within EdReady, sign up.

UPchieve logo (combination mark)

We’re collaborating with other equity-minded partners as well, and we’ll report on additional integrated services and supports as those come to fruition.

It’s well known that students from traditionally underserved populations often lack the credentials to matriculate into credit-bearing, postsecondary coursework without delay. We’re excited that more of our partners, such as the Maricopa Community College District and the entire North Carolina Community College System are using EdReady to give students from all backgrounds more opportunities to improve their readiness and start their postsecondary careers poised for success. We continue to work with all of our institutional partners—big and small—to document the benefits of our work for students, families, and educators, and we encourage you to reach out if you have stories to share.

Increasing College Success Among Nontraditional Students of Color
District Director, Developmental Education in Academic Affairs at Maricopa Community Colleges, AZ

Join us as we examine strategies for increasing success among nontraditional students of color in online (and hybrid) learning environments. Based on the lived experiences of students who successfully completed developmental and college-level courses, the Maricopa Community College model for ensuring college readiness illustrates the importance of collaboration between administrators, faculty, and staff to create success for all students.

Looking Ahead

We hear your suggestions for improvement and requests for new features and we are constantly working to make EdReady as user-friendly and effective as an adaptive-learning application can be. We are expecting to release some improvements soon that will include new alerts, more math-learning options, and improved tools for managing year-over-year cohort turnover. We continue to seek funding and partnerships for further enhancements and will report on these and other updates in future WHY (We Heard You) communications.

We are expecting to release some EdReady improvements soon that will include new alerts, more math-learning options, and improved tools for managing year-over-year cohort turnover.

Beyond technology enhancements, we are getting organized to tackle more challenges in teacher professional development, career readiness, and other areas of potential impact. We know that we could be having an even greater impact with broader content coverage and expanded target audiences, and we're actively pursuing whatever opportunities arise to put those enhancements into the hands of our community.

We hope that this pandemic will subside and that all of you are able to stay safe and healthy. Most of all, we hope we have opportunities to connect directly in the months ahead, whether in person or virtually, and that we can motivate each other to keep progressing on fulfilling our mission and improving the lives of the students we collectively serve.

Up with students!

— Ahrash

Spring 2021

Pondering Past the Pandemic

Here in California, the daily news has settled into an odd mixture of hopefulness and anxiety. On the one hand, the COVID-19 vaccine supply continues to improve, infection and death rates continue to decline, and there is serious talk about getting our students back into physical classrooms sooner rather than later. On the other hand, new virus variants threaten our progress, debate rages about who should be prioritized for the limited vaccines currently in hand, and historical inequities among people and places continue to be manifested and exacerbated in the education sector nearly everywhere you look. In many conversations with friends and colleagues, the primary emotions appear to be frustration and exhaustion. People want easy—or at least clear—answers, and those are in short supply.

New Statewide College Readiness Initiatives Launched in Texas and North Carolina: Texas College Bridge and Career and College Ready Graduate (CCRG)

Here at NROC, we have been fortunate in that our work was only partially disrupted by the pandemic. In fact, for many of our engagements, the pandemic expanded or deepened our collaborative efforts and created new opportunities for us to reach the students we are trying to help. Over the course of this past year, we have seen substantial gains in the numbers of students we have been able to serve, and in the successes those students have achieved, all across the country. Major new efforts, such as Texas College Bridge, as well as the Career and College Ready Graduate initiative in North Carolina, are up and running.

logos for Texas College Bridge and Career and College Ready Graduate (CCRG)

Our relationships with many of our existing institutional members and partners—big and small—feel strong, and we believe that we are well poised to resume and accelerate our mission-focused work this year and beyond.
People at the 2019 member meeting reach out their hands and touch one another
We miss you, NROCers! Pictured: NROC members engage in an interactive keynote in 2019.

That said, a persistent challenge in our work that became even more challenging with the pandemic is the need for productive and collaborative engagement with other people in order to implement solutions and practices that are likely to be effective. NROC staff can only facilitate those efforts, not lead them. In the end, it is critical to our work that we be able to form strong relationships with the teachers, administrators, and others who are more closely connected to the students on the ground. While NROC staff have always worked remotely, most of our member colleagues have not, and that disruption was felt keenly on all sides. In addition, we lost critical opportunities to connect face-to-face, whether at our twice-cancelled annual meeting or at other convenings we would normally attend over the course of the year.

Enhanced EdReady Performance, Accessibility, Stability, Privacy, and Security

As we pondered what the future might bring, we agreed that it was critical for us to continue to invest in our solutions, like EdReady, with special attention to the requirements that come with scale. Prior to the pandemic, we were pleased that our solutions were becoming more deeply embedded in key institutional practices and expectations; interestingly, the pandemic accelerated those trends. We have continued to work hard to become part of the infrastructure for college-readiness programs (high schools and summer bridge experiences), admissions processes (placement alternatives), and college and career pathways (co-requisite and developmental policies).

But being part of the infrastructure brings additional obligations, many of which are enforced by state or institutional policies. To that end, we have doubled down on performance enhancements, accessibility compliance, stability, privacy controls, and security. Furthermore, many of these considerations go beyond the technologies, encompassing internal practices and procedures utilized by NROC staff, with an eye toward assuring our partners that we are taking good care of their information and protecting their interests. These types of obligations normally accrue to much larger companies, and they are expensive to boot.

Nonetheless, I am proud to say that we recently obtained third-party SOC 2 Type II security certification. This certification is one of the most rigorous industry standards pertaining to information security and is a good representation of the effort we have put toward complying with operating principles and practices that are in keeping with our growing position as the provider of mission-critical solutions.

We have a number of additional milestones and improvements in the pipeline, scheduled to roll out in the coming months. We are feeling optimistic with our timing given that so many educational institutions and systems are taking advantage of the pandemic’s disruption to reconsider problematic legacy practices but can ill afford to take unnecessary risks as they try to get everyone back on their physical campuses and classrooms.

As you start putting your plans in place for this Spring, Summer, or Fall, be sure to drop us a line. We’re eager to help usher in new and improved practices and outcomes oriented to student readiness and success, and we’re ready for you.

Fall 2020

Student Readiness in a COVID-19 World

Institutional change is hard. People have to be willing to take risks and persist through the inevitable challenges to see real change at any meaningful scale. Over the past fifteen years, NROC staff have devoted most of their time and energy to inspiring people to action and then supporting them in their transformative educational work. Together, we have been working to change the way college and career readiness is approached and supported.

Abstract red landscape with COVID-19 virus illustration
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many people and institutions into changing practices whether they would normally choose to do so or not.

This seismic shift is inspiring many of our secondary, postsecondary, and adult education partners to expand their work with us, and we find ourselves supporting new engagements at a scale that was previously difficult to achieve. Collectively, we are rethinking pervasive policies and procedures that don’t seem to have an educational purpose and are instead responses to the friction that arises when conventions don’t reflect the reality on the ground.

Abstract yellow landscape with hand-drawn dots, a box, and a teal question mark
Take, for example, the business of defining certain college-aspiring students as 'unprepared' and designating them for remediation. What if we considered the expectation of acquired (and prerequisite) skills in a different light?

What if we made no assumptions about the extent to which students arrive at a new class or institution with some specific set of core skills intact and ready to be applied? In this case, you’d presumably employ tools and techniques to assess and improve key competencies on an as-needed basis. For most classrooms, it would make sense to check your premises at the start of the course or program, so that any serious knowledge or skill gaps can be identified and addressed as early in the term as possible; check prerequisite expectations continuously throughout a course or term so that students have a chance to put themselves in the best position to learn and apply the follow-on knowledge and skills; and check retention and understanding as a course or program draws to a close, informing students and teachers about areas of emphasis and attention in subsequent learning experiences.

Abstract yellow landscape with multicolored arrows and circles
This process of continuous, formative assessment, with an emphasis on improving knowledge and skills (as opposed to simply flagging students as deficient), has historically been dismissed as too difficult or impractical. But things have changed.

We cannot afford to keep failing students, and learners cannot afford to believe that it's sufficient to just 'pass the course' when key knowledge and skills for later learning remain unmastered.

Many of the principles and processes that define our educational system are inefficient and mired in a pre-technological mindset. Modern technology solutions, like EdReady, reduce the logistical and philosophical hurdles that hampered prior reform efforts, and we need more people and institutions to examine how these resources can improve existing practice.

Prior to the pandemic, NROC members like Jacksonville State University, Montana Digital Academy, and the North Carolina Community College System were challenging the boundaries of student success. Now, these institutions are thinking even more radically about how our solutions can support the evolution of outmoded practices. One of the key benefits of the NROC membership model is that it neither limits the number of students served nor the diversity of use cases deployed. COVID-19 has converted what was forever considered a problem that only accrued to an at-risk subgroup into a problem that affects literally everybody. We've long advocated that we're better served by thinking of problems of transfer, progressions, and readiness as universal issues.

We get ourselves into trouble when we create arbitrary distinctions between learners who are 'ready' versus students who are 'not ready'. Instead, we should normalize and institutionalize the process of giving every learner the opportunity to ascertain readiness in key areas and continuously revisit and strengthen core skills.

Blue and purple circles overlapping to form a Venn diagram
With appropriate technological supports, a formative assessment approach is easily deployed, readily scaled, and can dramatically improve student and educator outcomes.

As an example of how this approach solves some of the pandemic’s fallout, we can look to the current trends in higher-education admissions policies. Many colleges and universities have chosen to waive existing admissions requirements for next year’s freshman class, explicitly stating that they don’t expect learners to have mastered significant chunks of material that would normally be required as a condition of application and entry. However, if these skills are considered important for student success in college-level studies, then learners will need to recover them at some point. And if the skills aren’t important for all students, then personalized instruction should be employed to support individuals (or cohorts) as appropriate.Meeting all students where they are probably seems untenable. But, when we consider the capabilities of digital technologies like EdReady, the evolution of our practices becomes manageable. When everyone is ‘remedial’, no one is ‘remedial’. This lens helps us build policies and practices that support every learner individually at scale.

Spring 2020

Greetings, NROC community.

It has been more than a month since we were asked to ‘shelter in place’ here in California. In some ways, it feels like we have been living this way for a much longer time than that, yet in other ways, I still have a hard time believing that this is our ‘new normal’. I hope that you are staying safe, staying sane, and finding time for your families, your colleagues, and yourselves.

Learn more about how individuals can use our free resources and what is available to NROC members.

Spring 2019

Hello, NROC community members.

headshot of Ahrash Bissell, PhD
Dr. Ahrash Bissell

Many of you know me already – no surprise, since I’ve been on staff at The NROC Project (NROC) since 2010(!). For those of you whom I’ve not yet met, my name is Ahrash Bissell, and I am President of The NROC Project. I assumed this position last year and am still managing my transition. In fact, we are refining the roles and responsibilities of our entire staff, in the face of new strategic directions and the desire to continue improving our existing work. It’s an exciting time for NROC and our active community of secondary, postsecondary, and adult education leaders and diverse organizational partners. Week over week, we continue to accumulate evidence that we are making a positive impact on students, and that we are on track to deepen and broaden that impact in myriad ways. This President’s Note is intended to be the first of a series of long-form communications that will convey what we do – daily, monthly, annually, and over the long term – in service to our mission and in context with broader trends and topics in educational innovation, technology, and reform.


Last month, we hosted our annual NROC Member Meeting. It was, as usual, a whirlwind of catching up with many of our longtime members, meeting various people who are new to our collaborative community, and trying to soak up as many of the insights, ideas, and suggestions as we could manage in the few days we had. It was, in short, exhilarating—and exhausting.

Having had time to reflect on the Member Meeting, I want to use this inaugural note to share some further thoughts, particularly pertaining to the different ways that NROC prioritizes its activities in pursuit of our mission. As a reminder, our stated mission is ‘To help meet society’s need for access to effective, high-quality educational opportunities in an era of rapid economic, social, and personal change.’

NROC member in conversation with other members

Over its fifteen-year history, NROC has dedicated itself to a number of strategies in pursuit of this mission.

  • We have focused on open educational resources (OER) discovery, curation, and dissemination.
  • We have published cutting-edge, multimedia learning products.
  • We have cast a wide net across many subject areas, and we have focused intensely on the math and English skills that are critical to college and career success.
  • We have built robust deployment systems for educational content, including EdReady, a platform for supporting personalized learning and differentiated instruction.

And, even as we have committed to these different activities for the long term, refining and improving our capacity to support institutional partners who have embraced these strategic efforts, we have also found ways to extend our reach, broaden our interests, and stay on the edge of what’s possible.

Taking stock of our many activities, and where we feel we have been able to have the most impact, some things became clear. NROC is, at heart, an innovation shop. As I often say when explaining our work, ‘we are an advocacy and problem-solving organization with a well-stocked toolbox.’

We believe that we do our best work when we are able to engage with our institutional members as partners in imagining possible solutions to an issue and then supporting the execution of that shared plan toward the ultimate goal. Our courses and tools—comprising learning content, technology platforms, and digital-age protocols—have all been built to serve those mission-based goals.

Handwritten letter from a student who used EdReady

NROC is also a community of people, practitioners, and supportive institutions. NROC staff are not the ones who engage directly with students. Instead, we rely on member institutions to be the agents who convert aspiration to action. On occasion, however, we receive direct feedback from teachers and students, and those personal communications provide substantial motivation for us to continue in this work.

Putting these organizational functions together, I feel that NROC serves a critical role to educators and educational institutions by being a trusted partner and guide in the never-ending pursuit of more effective and equitable student outcomes. Especially in the context of the massive technological and social changes we are enduring, some sort of stabilizing influence seems critical. Importantly, we see our role as enabling change, not resisting it. We cannot work effectively with institutions who do not want to change practice, and we can help institutions in the throes of change stay calm and pursue measured, effective strategies that improve student outcomes. This year’s Member Meeting theme—‘A Thriving Hive’—did a good job of capturing this balanced approach; to wit, ‘Comprised of secondary, postsecondary, and adult education innovators, the NROC member hive is unafraid of experimentation and iteration. Our collective output is improving access and equity.’

So what does this mean for our day-to-day work? In some of my Member Meeting remarks, I referenced a graphic that is intended to distill the many activities that consume NROC staff time. I think that graphic is a useful organizer for my comments here. Depending on your point of view, you might see the graphic as a setting sun, or perhaps a steering wheel, or some sort of hub-and-spoke structure. All of those interpretations are suitable to our purposes, so stick with whatever works for you.

What we do sunbeam graphic (product development, community adoption & efficacy, maintenance & accessibility, partnerships)


For any given problem (or opportunity) NROC is asked to tackle, we have tended to pursue a similar line of logic. First, we consider whether the problem at hand is amenable to improvement with existing products or technologies. Our analysis in this regard is holistic; for example, there are many great products out there for many different purposes, but we are especially concerned with access, equity, and effectiveness, and typical business transactions in educational technology tend to limit access, exacerbate inequity, and resist community engagement in demonstrating effectiveness and supporting continuous improvement. This perspective is grounded by our roots in OER production and advocacy. On the flip side, there are many free products or OER that are not sufficiently polished or designed for effective implementation in the institutional contexts in which most of our students need help. It’s not enough to build stuff and give it away . . . the whole point is to improve student outcomes, so we have to commit to product distribution all the way through to student utilization and impact.

Product Development and Accessibility and Maintenance

We have had cause to take a hard look at a number of issues over the years, as referenced earlier. The results of our efforts remain the primary solutions we support every day. They include the NROC Algebra 1 course, the NROC Developmental Math and English programs, HippoCampus, and EdReady. Building these products takes a lot of time, expertise, and money. As part of NROC’s commitment to access and equity, we took great pains to seek out grant dollars to pay for nearly all of these development costs, thereby alleviating the burden of recouping those investments via membership fees or costs passed to students. Supporting and improving these solutions requires ongoing investment and effort, so much of our staff time and resources goes to these maintenance tasks.

Community Adoption and Efficacy

But high-quality content and platforms are only useful insomuch as they actually improve students’ lives. Because most students pursue educational credentials from respected and accredited institutions, it is essential that our solutions get adopted by interested educational establishments. As such, another substantive activity for NROC staff is raising awareness of our work, recruiting interested institutions, and sustaining our institutional member community. There are numerous challenges to this work, and we have found that there is no way to standardize the process. Fortunately, we have many champions among our members who help us to spread the word, so we’re not entirely on our own in this endeavor.

Our work doesn’t stop at adoption. Indeed, we have found that it is absolutely critical for us to provide substantial start-up support and some amount of professional development to our member community, in order to have some assurance that our content and tools—notably EdReady—will actually get used. As we point out all the time, EdReady can only be effective if students actually use it. Over the past few years, we have expanded the number of staff focused on implementation and ongoing support, including attention to student outcomes and documentation of efficacy. In considering our plans for the future, one of our aspirations is to dedicate even more time and effort to these types of activities, especially for members who are seeking to build on early successes and really embrace the opportunity for experimentation and continuous improvement.


Finally, we have long recognized that the full impact of our work cannot be realized on our own, even considering the size and diversity of our active membership. If we want to have a truly systemic impact on improving student learning and educational success, we need partners in that effort. Our partners run the gamut of our activities, from content and platform production to accessibility and research to distribution and awareness building. I will write more about our various partnerships, separately and as a group, in a future note.


An NROC member works with NROC staff

So what do we make of all this? Are we doing the right things? Are we using the best approaches? Is there some sort of emergent coherence that we can describe?

I believe the answer in each case is yes. That’s not to say that we have completely figured this out, but I think we see many indications that we are on the right track, and that we have largely been on the right track for some time. The news is filled with stories of students being bewildered or misled as they matriculate to postsecondary studies. Consequently, they drop out, often saddled with debt. We have also been tracking admissions scandals, culture wars, and questions on all sides about the connection between degree attainment and job prospects. In many ways, our institutions of higher education have lost control of the narrative, even as demand for further education continues to rise. Hard-working college professors, high school teachers, after-school program coordinators, and many others are having to manage multiple responsibilities and conflicting expectations, all with diminishing support.

We believe that we can play a meaningful supporting role in transforming this narrative. People everywhere are passionate about education because just about everyone agrees that education is the single best solution for taking control of one’s own destiny. Since perceived destinies vary depending on cultural and family history, everyone has some idea of how education might be helping or hindering our students. Educational institutions have to navigate these conflicting opinions and shifting expectations, and in many cases, the institutional response has been to hold steady and to resist change. But our student populations are changing, the connections between education and employment are changing, and the options available for learning are changing. Stubborn refusal to examine and update legacy practices will not weather this storm.

In our work, we strive to find reasonable pathways to and through transformation, and we collaborate with willing educators and administrators to put plans into action.

  • By targeting the agreed-upon most problematic aspects of current policies and procedures, such as placement and developmental education, we believe that we can catalyze further improvements in institutional practices in other areas.
  • By bringing technology, OER, and data-driven decision-making into the equation, we believe that we can help to reduce anxiety about these relatively new ideas in the education sector and pave the way for broader consideration and utilization.
  • As a mission-focused and member-driven organization, we believe we can build positive and productive relationships with educators where we work together as partners in improving student outcomes, as opposed to vendors who just want to sell something.


In this, our fifteenth year, we feel a renewed sense of commitment to our membership, our mission, and our capacity to drive positive change. We will be updating some of our ongoing development processes to involve our members even more closely. We are finding new ways to expand our distribution capacity and reach more people. And we are always exploring how to strengthen and expand our existing solutions, even as we look for opportunities to build new tools and impact new areas of concern.

Most importantly, we are excited about current and future collaborative efforts which are bringing recognition for the accomplishments of our members.

Our colleagues in Montana were recently awarded the WCET WOW Award for their incredible work scaling EdReady Montana across that vast state. Congratulations to Dr. Ryan Schrenk, Dr. Bob Curry, and everyone at EdReady Montana and the Montana Digital Academy. Download the student success ebook to learn more.

Dr. Jan Case

Dr. Jan Case, who has been so instrumental to the groundbreaking EdReady implementation at Jacksonville State University, shared this note with us recently:

“I just got the official word this week that my promotion to Distinguished Professor was awarded. I got the portfolio back today, and several of the reviewers emphasized my work with JSU and EdReady as being a factor in their recommendation that I receive the promotion. Thanks for your support and for this and for the many other ways that you are helping others help students.”

We have had the pleasure of bestowing recognition for outstanding leadership and contributions from among our membership at our annual meeting, and it’s gratifying to see other people and organizations recognizing the same things.

I hope that readers feel that same sense of purpose, that same sense of possibility. As always, we welcome input and engagement at any time – we want to hear your voices. Look for specific calls to action over the course of the coming year, and please let us know if you will be at a conference with the potential to meet one or more of us in person. 😉

Do you want to raise your voice or hand? Contact me.