Long-term student data needed to inform college/career policies

Long-term student data needed to inform college/career policies

(Calif.) In order to improve long-term student outcomes, policymakers must establish a data system that connects K-12 schools to community colleges and four-year universities, according to a report released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Without an integrated system, researchers said state and local policymakers cannot answer even the most basic questions regarding high school-level college and career readiness programs, for instance, and whether or not financial investments are paying off or if the programs are effective.

“Right now, California’s education data systems are fragmented,” Jacob Jackson, a PPIC research fellow, said during a presentation on the report. “Without connecting this data across systems we don’t have a full picture of a student’s development.

“For example, California high schools promote career and college readiness through the Common Core State Standards, but they don’t know if their students go on to college, or if they do go on to college, if they need to take remedial courses, or if they graduated and got a job right away,” Jackson said. “In order for them to know more, the data has to be connected.”

PPIC’s research is the second analysis from a major academic institute to reach the same conclusion after studying California’s school data systems.

Earlier this year in a report published by a team of scholars affiliated with Stanford University, who found that the state’s cumbersome and unorganized data management system hinders the ability of policymakers to make even the most fundamental decisions regarding California’s school performance.

One of the main problems, the Stanford team found, was that the data existed in the California Longitudinal Pupil Assessment and Data System, or CalPADS, but that access was restricted and wasn’t linked to any of the major databases maintained by other state agencies that also have important responsibilities over child welfare and education.

Looking specifically at how best to track long-term education and employment outcomes of students, the PPIC report found that California trails other states in tracking data related to the educational pipeline and the impact of education on work and earnings.

Currently, California is one of only eight states without a statewide longitudinal data system that links student-level data across educational sectors—or has no plans to create one, according to researchers. While some statewide data systems link certain segments, such as K-12 and postsecondary education, 16 states and the District of Columbia have systems that link early learning, K-12, postsecondary and workforce data.

A bill introduced last legislative session by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, sought to add California to that list by requiring the state education department and each of the state’s higher education systems to track student data from kindergarten through their transition into the workforce.

Though it failed to make it to the governor’s desk, PPIC researchers said that such a robust data system as promoted by the bill would be instrumental in providing feedback for institutions and evaluating state-level policies.

An integrated data system would also encourage stronger collaborations among institutions to improve student outcomes, they wrote, because it would allow for important questions to be answered, including:

  • Which students successfully transition from high school to college and from community colleges to four-year colleges, and which of those successfully earn degrees?
  • Are we appropriately placing students in remediation?
  • How much does it cost the state to put students through the various pathways to a four-year degree, and how much does it cost a typical student to attain a degree?
  • What are the impacts of different degrees or certificates on earnings?
  • How can California schools and colleges produce the right workforce for the state?
  • Is the new K–12 funding formula producing better postsecondary and work outcomes, especially for students from schools that have received increased funding?

When policymakers are able to accurately answer those and other questions, they can diagnose problems in the educational pipeline and developing policy solutions to improve students’ progress through school and into the workforce, researchers concluded.

“Establishing a statewide longitudinal data system would require a significant investment of resources, and decisions around governance, privacy, and security need to be carefully considered,” authors of the report wrote. “But the returns for students, colleges, and the state as a whole could be substantial. California needs an integrated data system to ensure that the state’s educational policies and programs are indeed improving outcomes for all students.”

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