This is part one of three in our “College and Career Readiness Close-Up” series examining innovative, leading state practices in holding schools accountable for providing pathways for high school students that prepare them for postsecondary education and work.
Like many states, the California School Dashboard, the state’s accountability system, uses a College/Career Indicator, or CCI, to measure the percentage of high school graduates who are prepared for college or a career.1Due to disruptions in data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic and waivers from the U.S. Department of Education permitting states to forgo certain accountability and reporting requirements, California’s School Dashboard did not include CCI data in 2020, 2021, or 2022. The most recent, available CCI data is for the graduating class of 2019. CCI reporting should resume for the 2022-23 school year. But unlike many other states, California does more than report the percentage of ready graduates. The state provides additional context so that Dashboard users can make meaning of the CCI, as well as additional data points for wonkier users who want to dive deeper into which high school students are prepared, and how.
The College/Career Indicator
Specifically, the CCI deems students “prepared” if they meet criteria in one of twelve pathways. As depicted in Figures 1 and 2, six of the pathways focus on college-ready measures while the other six focus on career-ready measures (though one is only available to certain students with disabilities).
Figure 1. College Readiness Pathways in California’s College/Career Indicator
Figure 2. Career Readiness Pathways in California’s College/Career Indicator
Putting Performance Levels in Context
California schools and districts receive one of five color-coded performance levels on each accountability indicator, including the CCI, on the Dashboard: Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red (from highest to lowest). While these color-coded labels seem straightforward and easy to understand, the state’s underlying methodology of calculating performance levels on the CCI is somewhat complicated for two primary reasons.
First, many readiness measures in the CCI need to be achieved in combination in order for a student to be deemed “prepared” via that pathway. For example, students who successfully complete the a-g course requirements with a “C” average—the most common way California graduates show readiness280.7% of graduates in the 2019 cohort completed the a-g requirements, compared to 57.3% of graduates demonstrating proficiency on state assessments in ELA and math (the next most common way graduates demonstrated readiness). and a requirement if students want to enroll in public four-year universities in California—are only considered “approaching prepared” unless they also complete another readiness measure. To be considered “prepared,” students successfully completing the a-g sequence would also need to:
- complete a career and technical education (CTE) pathway;
- complete, with at least a “C-” grade, the equivalent of one semester of dual credit in academic or CTE courses;
- demonstrate proficiency (Level 3) on the state summative assessments in English Language Arts (ELA) or math and score at least a Level 2 on the summative assessment in the other subject; or
- score at least a “3” on an Advanced Placement (AP) exam or at least a “4” on an International Baccalaureate (IB) exam.
Likewise, students who complete a CTE pathway with a “C-” average in the capstone course are not considered fully prepared unless they also:
- reach Level 3 (“standard met”) in either math or ELA on the statewide summative assessments and reach Level 2 (“standard nearly met”) in the other subject area; or
- earn the equivalent of one semester of college credit through dual enrollment with at least a “C-” grade.
Second, once the percentage of graduates considered “prepared” is determined for each school, a school’s performance level on the Dashboard is determined by not only current year data, but also how current data compares to prior-year results from the previous cohort of graduates. In other words, schools can be recognized as high-performing if a significant percentage of their graduates are deemed prepared or for making significant progress in improving the percentage of prepared graduates, even if the actual rate is not as high as in other high schools.
California mitigates potential confusion about what the performance levels mean by prominently and transparently displaying the overall rate of prepared students in each school alongside the color-coded performance level, as well as an indication of how the rate has changed since last year.
Comparing data for two actual California high schools (see Figure 3) shows why this matters. At first glance, both Acalanes High School in Lafayette and Golden Valley High School in Bakersfield received Blue, the highest performance level, on the CCI in the 2018-19 school year. However, the percentage of graduates deemed prepared at Acalanes, 78.7%, was much higher than the percentage at Golden Valley, 56.2%. Golden Valley was “rewarded” for showing improvement from the previous year—and the Dashboard notes the school “Increased” by 10.3%—leading to its Blue level. Meanwhile Acalanes “Maintained” its high performance on the CCI, earning the Blue level for its high number of prepared graduates rather than progress. Because the overall readiness rates and change in the overall rates are published right below the schools’ performance levels, Dashboard users can more easily make sense of the colors.
Figure 3. Performance Levels vs. Overall Readiness Rates on California’s College/Career Indicator
Digging Deeper than Overall Readiness Rates
Even better, California publishes an additional report on the CCI annually to provide more detailed information on the indicator. Dashboard users can access the comprehensive CCI report by clicking the View Additional Reports button (see Figure 4) at the top of the Dashboard, and then selecting College/Career Measures Report.
Figure 4. Finding More Detailed Data on Readiness from the California School Dashboard
The detailed report shows the percentage (and raw number) of graduates achieving each readiness measure within the CCI, allowing users to understand more nuanced differences in student preparedness across measures, student groups, and schools. As a result, instead of only answering whether graduates were prepared for college and career, California’s data can also answer how and which student groups showed they were prepared.
Differences Across Readiness Measures
Let’s return to Acalanes and Golden Valley, our two schools with the same performance level on the CCI but different overall rates of readiness. In Acalanes (see the left panel of Figure 5), more than half of its prepared graduates achieved one of four readiness measures: completing the a-g criteria, passing the Smarter Balanced assessments, passing AP exams, and earning the State Seal of Biliteracy. Impressively, as highlighted in the figure below, more than 90% of Acalanes’ graduating students completed the a-g sequence, but no students were deemed ready by earning college credit through dual enrollment (or IB exams and leadership/military science). In Golden Valley (see the right panel of Figure 5), however, the most popular readiness measures were completing the a-g criteria and earning college credits; over half of its graduates completed college-level courses, compared to none at Acalanes. But a far lower percentage of graduates finished the a-g sequence, just shy of 60%.
Figure 5. Showing How California Graduates Demonstrate Readiness Highlights Strengths and Areas for Improvement
This example shows how reporting data on each individual measure of college and career readiness provides a far more informative picture than the overall readiness rate and performance level alone. With the more detailed data California provides, it becomes clear that Acalanes, despite its high performance on the CCI, could further strengthen its offerings by adding dual enrollment courses in addition to AP. Likewise, Golden Valley may want to focus on expanding access to dual enrollment, increasing a-g completion, and improving student performance on state assessments.
Differences Across Student Groups
The College/Career Measures report also shows disaggregated data for each student group3Student groups included in the additional College/Career Indicator reports are: African American, American Indian, Asian, Filipino, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, White, Two or more races, English Learners, Socio-economic Disadvantaged, Students with Disabilities, Foster Students, and Homeless Students., helping report card users identify inequities in access and success across student groups overall, as well as across different readiness options.
For example, in Acalanes, the overall readiness rate for both Asian and Hispanic graduates was the same: 75% (see the top panel of Figure 6). However, student preparedness across individual measures does not look the same for the two groups. For instance, as highlighted in the bottom panel of Figure 6, almost all Asian students deemed ready completed the a-g requirements, whereas 75% of Hispanic students deemed ready achieved this option. Meanwhile, five in six Hispanic students who were deemed prepared earned the State Seal of Biliteracy, while just over half of Asian students did.
Figure 6. Overall Readiness Rates vs. Readiness by Measure for Different Groups of Students
Given that completion of the a-g requirements is necessary to gain admissions to four-year public universities in California, this data shows Acalanes has room for improvement in supporting its Hispanic graduates to successfully complete the a-g sequence. Without this nuanced readiness data, parents, educators, school and district leaders, and policymakers would be left in the dark about the differences in performance between student groups on various readiness measures.
While using a rather complicated college and career readiness indicator, with twelve distinct pathways to demonstrate graduates are prepared, California summarizes this information clearly on its Dashboard, giving an overall snapshot of readiness at each school by reporting both the rate of ready graduates alongside a color-coded performance label to help users know whether the overall rate is good, bad, or somewhere in between.
Many states don’t even get that far. But California takes several additional steps to enhance the usability of its college and career readiness data—and becomes a standout from other states—by breaking down its data so the public can understand the state of preparedness for each student group and across different measures. Doing so illuminates specific areas of strength and areas to improve for each school and flags critical equity gaps in access to strong postsecondary pathways. All states with college and career readiness indicators should consider publishing similar data.
- 1Due to disruptions in data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic and waivers from the U.S. Department of Education permitting states to forgo certain accountability and reporting requirements, California’s School Dashboard did not include CCI data in 2020, 2021, or 2022. The most recent, available CCI data is for the graduating class of 2019. CCI reporting should resume for the 2022-23 school year.
- 280.7% of graduates in the 2019 cohort completed the a-g requirements, compared to 57.3% of graduates demonstrating proficiency on state assessments in ELA and math (the next most common way graduates demonstrated readiness).
- 3Student groups included in the additional College/Career Indicator reports are: African American, American Indian, Asian, Filipino, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, White, Two or more races, English Learners, Socio-economic Disadvantaged, Students with Disabilities, Foster Students, and Homeless Students.