Data essential to ensure students are prepared for college and careers

hept27 / iStockhept27 / iStockLisa Gonzales and Shelly MasurAugust 21, 2017California’s future success depends on tapping into the potential of all students, no matter their background, ethnicity or gender, so they graduate ready for post-secondary school, professional opportunities and life. This work is especially urgent for historically underserved students, including Latino students, who make up more than half of California’s public school population, as well as the 1.4 million English Learner students in California.
Lisa GonzalesHelping students prepare for life after high school graduation starts with developing an accurate representation of where students are academically.
A recently released set of state-by-state reports from Achieve — a national, non-partisan education nonprofit — affirms that the State of California is improving the way it makes available timely and transparent information about the college and career readiness of our students.
Achieve gave California high ratings in reporting of Smarter Balanced assessments, four-year graduation rates, college and career-ready course completion, and postsecondary remediation rates across all subgroups including racial and ethnic background, students with disabilities, and English learners. Reporting on key measures such as these will help build public and stakeholder understanding of whether students are learning the skills and concepts they will need to graduate high school with maximum options to pursue post-secondary education and careers. It also strengthens local accountability and helps shine a light on populations of students facing persistent achievement and opportunity gaps.
Shelly MasurA key element of California’s positive move toward greater transparency and accountability is the new California School Dashboard, which shows how districts and schools are performing on a range of measures of student success, including test scores, graduation rates, and suspension rates.  The Dashboard is the latest in a broader series of major shifts to the state’s public education system — including new standards, new assessments, and a locally driven funding formula designed to help local educators, parents and community members engage more meaningfully in the important, and often difficult conversations about how to close gaps and improve outcomes for all students.
For example, as districts engage in their Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) processes, they are expected to use state and local indicator data from the new Dashboard to monitor student progress. When Dashboard indicators identify student subgroups as low performing or low growth, districts are encouraged to engage in a process of continuous improvement to develop strategies and then monitor their effectiveness.
While the process is just taking hold, districts can learn from examples such as in Fresno Unified School District, where school leaders partnered with  UC Merced to analyze additional ways to promote college and career success. Fresno Unified has made impressive gains in their high school graduation rates, but the district recognized that this measure alone did not provide a complete picture of student readiness for the future. According to a recent Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) brief, the district’s Equity Access Team found evidence that many students, including those from low-income families, who were eligible to apply to a variety of colleges and universities, applied to just one — the local CSU campus in Fresno. Employing a model of Improvement Science, the team used data to hone in on the problem and identify a potential solution, which the district then implemented. Early results showed a 50 percent increase in the number of students applying to CSUs and UCs outside of Fresno. This is a great example of the continuous improvement mindset and approach that districts can take to improve opportunities for all students. And it starts with data.
The Achieve report also notes areas of potential improvement for California in the way it makes college and career readiness information available, such as collecting and reporting whether students are on-track for high school graduation, readiness for postsecondary enrollment, and how well students persist towards earning a college degree. Currently, the California Department of Education is convening a broad-based working group to improve the robust set of measures in the College and Career Readiness indicator, which will be added to the Dashboard beginning in fall 2017. Full implementation is slated for the following academic year. The department of education and its working group are engaging in discussions and reviewing research related to reporting on several additional career measurements — especially looking at industry certifications and Career Technical Education Pathways — as well as other criteria that would be feasible and useful to collect from the state’s nearly 1,000 school districts, and meaningful to parents, educators and all stakeholders.
The new College and Career Readiness indicator is a case in point of how the Dashboard is intended to be a work-in-progress, with the data and ways in which both state and local indicators inform local decision-making improving over time.
Of course, having more information available is only a first step — albeit a crucial one. It is essential that we help build the capacity of local districts to analyze the data, and identify and implement effective practices to improve outcomes for all students. California’s new Dashboard will then help measure whether progress is being made.
Decision makers and advocates can help by continuing to monitor and recommend enhancements to the Dashboard, and by encouraging more collaboration between the California Department of Education, K-12 and higher education agencies to link and share data across segments, and providing necessary resources to do so.
California is fertile ground for data transparency and demonstrating how to best support its students, including the many historically underserved Latino K-12 students and the nearly 1.4 million English learners in California. The new Dashboard is a major step in the right direction. As a state, we must continue to make significant investments to strengthen and accelerate the academic progress of all our students. Our future depends on it.
Lisa Gonzales is president of the Association of California School Administrators. Shelly Masur is CEO of Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation.
The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.
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