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Three Steps States Can Take for Higher Student Achievement Despite Weak National Data Standards

Three Steps States Can Take for Higher Student Achievement Despite Weak National Data Standards

by NSC Blog | Feb 23, 2016 | Research Reports, Research Services |

By Douglas Shapiro, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Executive Director

As we all have experienced, what gets measured gets attention.

Thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), nearly every high school in the country will be measured on the postsecondary enrollment rates of their graduates starting in 2017. State and community leaders will be watching to see if data shows their high school as a high or low performing school.

Educational data can be a powerful tool, not just for identifying low performing schools but for providing transparency to students and parents and enabling research on what works. At its best, it helps improve public policy and performance at all levels among schools, districts and states, and inform the creation of tools for benchmarking.

However, regulation too often misses this target, causing effective data collections to collapse under the weight of incomparability and consumer confusion. The new reporting requirements for state grantees under ESSA risks creating just these sorts of flaws.

To address these concerns, the National Student Clearinghouse offers state and local educational authorities the ability to keep track of their high school graduates and identify which ones attend college, no matter if they go in state, out-of-state, or to private schools. Through the Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker® service, state and local authorities can submit up to eight cohort of graduates and receive standard, informative reports of where those graduates enrolled in college, their eventual outcomes, and their completion information. StudentTracker generates the reports using consistent measures drawn from the Clearinghouse’s collection of national postsecondary enrollment records. Thus, every state can be confident that the ESSA measures are fairly applied. With options for individual-level outcomes as well as school, district and state aggregations, educators and policymakers can easily examine the results at relevant levels and track year-to-year trends.

The Clearinghouse offers three simple steps that states can take to put the new ESSA requirements into powerful drivers of school improvements. The three steps are:

  1. Avoid hiding behind the unavailability of postsecondary enrollment data, or the supposed impracticality of collecting it. Make use of easily accessed Clearinghouse reports that measure enrollments for both in-state and out-of-state, as well as public and private students.
  2. Provide these reports in advance to schools and districts so they can digest and compare results, and identify appropriate responses and focused improvement strategies. Encourage them to use the Research Center’s published national benchmarks as well.
  3. Publish school level results on an easily accessible website, and publicize its availability to parents and communities, so they know where their schools stand.

If states and districts are to use their data to identify performance gaps, target resources to where they can do the most good, and ultimately drive improvements in student outcomes, then they need the tools to do it right.

Schools, districts and states need to prepare for the transparency required by ESSA, otherwise data becomes the “enemy,” which often leads to political arguments and a blame game. The National Student Clearinghouse and our outcomes-focused partners have the resources to help state and local leaders reduce risks associated with transparency and generate data-informed commitments to increasing student success.

And that means honest measures and comparative benchmarks that give fair comparisons to their peers. Comparisons that policymakers can accept without needless sniping about the validity of the data. It also means actionable reports that clearly show how the measured outcomes differ for specific groups of students and types of schools, highlighting where policy changes can make a difference. This way, leaders can be prepared with a clear response plan when the numbers become public.

Schools, districts and states need to prepare for the transparency required by ESSA, otherwise data becomes the “enemy,” which often leads to political arguments and a blame game. The National Student Clearinghouse and our outcomes-focused partners have the resources to help state and local leaders reduce risks associated with transparency and generate data-informed commitments to increasing student success.

This week, I will be meeting with leaders from New Profit and some of the largest college access and success organizations for a strategy conversation on these issues. Our goal is to identify concrete ways to ensure that states make the ESSA data prominently public, that state and local education authorities and support organizations learn from the data, and that parents, educators and policymakers demand and value the data on behalf of student achievement.

To learn more about the Clearinghouse’s concerns and steps to benefit state and local education leaders, download our paper, “How to Provide Accurate and Actionable Education Performance Reporting Despite Weak National Data Standards.”

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