A student’s path after high school—either to college, career, or a combination of the two — is critical to their later-in-life success and requires both support and guidance. Yet, schools and districts often do not have a clear understanding of which paths their graduated students chose, whether the courses taken in high school align with college- and career-related skills, or how successful their graduated students are in their chosen paths. Without access to linked data that connects across P–20W (early childhood, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce), K–12 leaders at the school and district levels are essentially operating in the dark and unable to prepare their students fully for life after high school.
Information about students’ pathways from K–12 through postsecondary and workforce helps leaders at all levels answer questions and make important decisions related to programming and resource allocation. The insights from P–20W systems—such as how career and technical education students fare in the local job market—allow school and district leaders to make informed decisions about course offerings and student support services.
All states link education and workforce data. However, even the most advanced states in terms of linkages and robustness of their data systems experience numerous hurdles that prevent or limit school and district leaders from accessing and using linked data. These obstacles include a lack of governance (a systematic decisionmaking body to create clear and transparent data policies), insufficient engagement on the part of the state to understand the data needs of educators, and antiquated, rigid systems that are not responsive to changing education and workforce realities.
Currently, most schools and districts do not have needed access to the information in their state’s P–20W system and, as a result, have to build workarounds to fulfill their own data needs. These workarounds are costly, time consuming, and only provide a limited picture of their students’ outcomes. Numerous school districts have been entrepreneurial in getting the data necessary to understand how best to prepare their students post–high school. For example, many districts use National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) to obtain postsecondary enrollment and completion data on their graduated students. However, NSC data is costly and in many cases is a duplicate of data that already exists at the state level in P–20W systems.
Leaders at the district and school levels should not have to dedicate already constrained resources to obtain data that the state currently collects and could make available. It’s most common to see districts and schools attempt two different solutions:
- Leaders in districts and schools dedicate time to building relationships with local colleges and universities to gather data on their graduated students who have enrolled in those particular institutions. This data only paints a partial picture of their students’ postsecondary outcomes and does not cover students who chose to not enroll in that particular college or chose to enter into the workforce.
- Leaders also pursue relationships with local and regional employers to better understand workforce needs in various industries. Establishing these relationships is important to ease the transition between high school and college and career. However, districts should not have to rely on establishing and sustaining these relationships as a means to collecting data on their graduated students’ workforce outcomes.
State leaders are positioned to better support K–12 leaders’ data needs. They can improve access to the data that leaders need to make informed decisions and build capacity for educators at all levels to use this data. To do this, state leaders should:
- Engage with K–12 leaders to better understand their data needs and develop data tools that are user centered and integrate well into educator’s decisionmaking.
- Modernize their state’s P–20W system to ensure that the system is responsive to K–12 leaders’ changing questions and the changing priorities at the state level.
- Improve existing data tools and resources to meet the needs of district and school leaders, such as including key postsecondary and workforce metrics or increasing the frequency of feedback reports to districts.
- Invest in K–12 leaders’ capacity to use the data by creating professional development opportunities to build educators’ data literacy or dedicating staff to provide K–12 leaders support in accessing, interpreting, and using data.
Schools and districts need data on their students’ postsecondary and workforce outcomes. Without it, they can’t answer their most pressing questions about their students’ outcomes or refine their approach to college and career readiness to keep up with the changing postsecondary and workforce landscape. State leaders must invest in both robust data linkages and the school and district leaders who would gain immense insights from them.