California is Following Best Practices to Make Its Statewide Data System a Reality

California is Following Best Practices to Make Its Statewide Data System a Reality

People need data to answer their critical questions. With meaningful access to information, students and families can explore postsecondary options and plan for the future. Policymakers and education leaders can likewise use longitudinal data to understand student pathways and improve programming.

Without a cohesive, statewide data system, however, this critical information can get trapped in silos. In California, multiple agencies collect student data from early childhood through college and career. These entities operate independently and use data for different purposes. Any data-sharing initiatives exist only at the local level, and are therefore limited in scope and effectiveness. This disjointed, confusing system leaves Californians without answers to basic questions like:

  • What college and career pathways do students in California pursue after high school?
  • How do college courses of study stack up in terms of retention, employment outcomes, and student loans?
  • What supports are most effective in helping students navigate post-high school transitions?
  • How do early childhood experiences and opportunities impact students’ long-term outcomes?

This information is always important—but in the context of COVID, it is absolutely crucial. Researchers will need access to statewide data to understand how COVID has impacted student pathways; policymakers and system leaders will likewise rely on student data to inform effective recovery efforts. Without access to this data, Californian students and families will be flying blind in an unprecedented crisis.

In 2019, the California legislature took an important step forward by passing the Cradle-to-Career Data System Act. This legislation called for the creation of a statewide data infrastructure that would provide students and families with information they need to identify opportunities and plan for the future, help state agencies improve education and workforce policies and programs, and support statewide research efforts. The vision it laid out was ambitious, yet attainable.

Over the past year, California has been striving to make this vision a reality. A working group of agency leads has developed recommendations for phase one implementation of the statewide data system. As per state law, the working group has sought feedback from advisory groups comprised of researchers, policy experts, local education and community college leaders, advocates, and civil rights groups. This type of critical engagement is necessary to secure stakeholder buy-in and ensure the recommendations represent a collaborative effort.

The working group has also prioritized transparency at every step of the process. All meetings have been open to the public, with additional resources and materials available online. Conducting this work in the daylight is crucial to building public trust, maintaining support, and ensuring public accountability.

In the final proposal, they recommend launching multiple statewide tools, including:

  • A data dashboard that policymakers, system leaders, and the public can use to answer critical questions about student pathways;
  • A college and career guidance initiative that will support students, families, and counselors in navigating transitions from high school to postsecondary;
  • An electronic transcript exchange application that will help high schools, colleges, and universities efficiently share information about student’s needs.

The structure, governance, and privacy safeguards of this system align with best practices that DQC has identified from over 15 years working with states as they strive to break down silos to make data work for students. Moreover, scaling these tools statewide will ensure that all Californian students have access to the knowledge, support, and resources that will help them achieve their goals—regardless of where they live or what school they attend.

As the Governor and state legislature review the working group’s recommendations this winter, we are hopeful that California will (finally) step up and take on this challenging yet worthwhile work. They have the opportunity to leapfrog leading states, embrace long-needed innovation, and make enormous progress in ensuring that all students are set up for success.

For more on California’s data landscape, why navigating key decisions is harder when data is stuck in silos, and why a statewide solution lays the groundwork for a path to success, see our new infographic—available in English and Spanish.