The ESEA roundtable hosted this morning by the Senate HELP Committee featured a diverse panel of education advocates: special education teachers, a principal, a gifted and talented coordinator, a district superintendent, a state schools’ chief, and national voices like New Leaders, The Leadership Conference, Easter Seals… and Rick Hess. Not surprisingly (given that the hearing was scheduled during the ESEA mark-up to appease Sen. Rand Paul), Kentucky was over-represented on the panel, and the Kentuckians in the room tended to not like No Child Left Behind very much.
But one aspect of the Harkin-Enzi reauthorization bill that every panelist praised was the requirement for states to adopt college- and career-ready standards so that all students are held to high expectations and prepared for higher education or the workforce. But is adoption of standards, Common Core or otherwise, the only step states need to take to promote college and career readiness? Hardly. States need to define not just what students should know to be ready, but also give information to schools, principals, and teachers about whether their students were actually ready for postsecondary success.
46 states (and Minnesota, sort of) have adopted the Common Core standards, built around the goal of college and career readiness. But far fewer states give high schools the kind of information they need to determine if they truly have done a good job preparing their students for college or the workforce. This is a big problem, according to stakeholders on the ground and groups like the Data Quality Campaign, College Summit, and Jobs for the Future. In Education Sector’s latest Chart You Can Trust, I found that only 8 states provide high schools with useful feedback on their students’ postsecondary success, yet over 40 have the data capacity to do so. The information provided by these states shares four characteristics – the four Ts – that make their feedback informative and actionable for high schools. Feedback needs to be:
- transparent and made available to the public;
- thorough and include all in-state postsecondary institutions;
- timely and released within a couple years of students’ high school graduation; and
- tailored and designed specifically for use by individual high schools.
Kentucky is one of the leading states that gets all four Ts. The state measures and reports a multitude of college and career outcomes to high schools, so it’s no wonder that the state’s senators, principals, and teachers find the current accountability system under No Child Left Behind – based solely on test scores and graduation rates – so inadequate. They get much richer information in their high school feedback reports. Elmer Thomas, the principal of Madison Central High School in Richmond, Ky., spoke at today’s hearing and praised the state’s efforts to adopt college- and career-ready standards. Coupled with the information he is provided by the state in the school’s latest feedback report, it’s easy to see how Thomas has a rich understanding of his students’ preparedness.
Hopefully more states can follow Kentucky’s lead. States are adopting and implementing college- and career-ready standards and assessments already. But this only tells us so much about students’ readiness. The only way we will know if these reforms are working is to measure what happens once students have left their high school classrooms. And the best way to help schools and principals improve their students’ outcomes is to make the data as user-friendly as possible.