Long gone are the days of pushing kids toward a high school diploma and bidding them good fortune in their next endeavors. Today’s high schools are being asked to do more than just graduate their students; policymakers, education leaders, and the public want to know that graduates can immediately enroll—and succeed in—college-level work or the workforce. To do that, high schools must not only continue pushing students toward a diploma, but also keep them in sight after graduation to see how those students fair in their next pursuits. Do they have to enroll in remedial or developmental courses? Are they able to secure employment? Those outcomes will be the true gauge of whether students left high school college- and career-ready.
Thirty-four states collect at least one piece of “college- and career-ready evidence,” as my colleague Anne Hyslop reported during this week’s Education Sector webinar on the topic. The most common form of college- and career-ready evidence reported by states is college enrollment. Other measures are remediation rates—what percentage of high school graduates have to enroll in remedial or developmental courses in college?—and persistence rates—what percentage of graduates continue on to their second year of college and ultimately, earn a degree? However, Hyslop cautioned, “Having the data isn’t enough; it needs to be collected and reported in a way that’s useful.” The best way to do that is to ensure the data is transparent, thorough, timely, and tailored—these are the four T’s of useful education data, as Education Sector identified last year.
Currently, schools are rarely held accountable for college- and career-ready outcomes. While those 34 states collect the data, no follow-up is included in those states’ accountability systems. But as Jordan Horowitz, of the Institute for Evidence-Based Change who also delivered the webinar with Hyslop, says: These data points can, and should, be used for more than accountability. Educators need to have access to the data and knowledge of how to transform data into action. Take West Hills High School in San Diego, Calif., for example: Educators there used their graduates’ outcome data to work with local community college instructors to identify students’ weaknesses in college-level work. With that information, the high school teachers were able to tailor their instruction to better prepare their students for the reality of the academic demands at their local colleges. Hyslop details this partnership—and its pay-offs—in Education Sector’s newest report, Ready by Design: A College and Career Agenda for California.
So while high school graduation certainly is a goal, it’s not an end. Educators must be cognizant of that, and likely, many are. But until states and districts provide data on how their graduates fare after high school, they will never really know—nor have the means to improve.