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COLLEGE- AND CAREER-READY: New Education Sector Report Offers a Different Take on Measuring Student College and Career Readiness

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“Tests and other proxy measures can offer only a limited snapshot of what students know and can do.”

A recent analysis from Education Sector looks at how well high schools are utilizing accountability systems to evaluate student performance, progress, and readiness for succeeding at the next level. The report, College-And Career-Ready: Using Outcomes Data to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success, argues that the best way to measure student-preparedness levels is to implement data tracking systems that take into account how students actually perform once they arrive at their college or workplace destination.

The report finds that adequate yearly progress—the measure of high school performance as defined under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act—is not a very good indicator of how high school graduates will fare in college and careers. Using examples from several states, the report shows the limitations of relying only on standardized tests and graduation rates.

“Tests and other proxy measures can offer only a limited snapshot of what students know and can do,” said Chad Aldeman, policy analyst at Education Sector and author of the report. “As a result, high schools that meet NCLB accountability measures do not always graduate students who are ready to succeed.”

For example, the report studies two Florida-based high schools: Manatee High School and Boca Raton Community High School. Manatee received a “D” rating on the state’s A–F scale of academic performance and failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for a consecutive fourth year. On the other hand, Boca Raton earned its second straight “A” rating from the state and was included in Newsweek magazine’s list of best high schools in the country. However, Education Sector found that Manatee High School—despite its low rating—graduated a higher percentage of students than Boca Raton and sent almost the same number of students to college. Once these schools’ graduates were at college, Manatee students earned high grades and fewer of them failed remedial English courses than their Boca Raton peers.

College- and Career-Ready lists Florida, Oregon, and Ohio as examples of the states that have built data systems that track a student’s progress after high school and into college and the workforce. Unfortunately, high school accountability systems in many other states fail to recognize college- and career-ready goals; instead they rate high schools on only two measures: graduation rates and student scores on basic skills tests given in the ninth or tenth grade.

For states with data systems that are not quite up to the leading states, the report offers suggestions on how states could use existing data systems to create richer, more multi-dimensional measures of high school success. For example, it suggests that states take into account factors such as performance on statewide assessment tests; graduation rates; percentage of students taking Advanced Placement classes or other college-level courses; percentage of students who attend college; number of college-bound students who can pass remedial courses; students’ college grade point averages and levels of credit attainment; and employment rate and wages earned for those students who entered the workforce immediately after high school.

According to the report, this more complex system would present a more consistent and accurate look at student-readiness levels and allow all schools to be evaluated more comprehensively. About twenty states have at least two of these abilities and some states can do them all. Only a handful of states currently take advantage of the data available on employment even though all states are required by federal law to collect this information.

College- and Career-Ready identifies several challenges to states adopting these types of measures including a disconnect between developing new data systems and developing new policies; limitations around what data is currently available; inability to track students that move out of state after graduation; and delays in how soon school failures or successes can be detected. It concludes that in many cases the benefits outweigh the challenges and by using data systems that focus on high school and college performance factors, the country can also tackle the alignment problem between high school exit and college entry standards.

To read the full report, visit http://www.educationsector.org/usr_doc/College-Ready.pdf.

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