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How Data Can Help Put Students on a College-and-Career Track

Wouldn't it be helpful if educators could figure out, as early as 8th grade, whether a student was on track not just to graduate from high school but to go on to college or start a career? Wouldn't it be even better if educators could also determine exactly how far behind that student was along the achievement spectrum and pinpoint which interventions were best suited to a student at that level of readiness?

That's not just a pipe dream, according to Chrys Dougherty, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Educational Achievement in Austin, Texas. In a paper published last week by the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research, Dougherty discusses how states and districts can use longitudinal data to create indicators that show whether 8th graders are on track to be college-and-career ready four years later. That's a higher standard than whether a student is on grade level or on track to graduate on time.

Dougherty also envisions that educators will be able to tell exactly how far off track students are and plan accordingly. He tested his indicators with data from Texas and Arkansas and found that, when students enter high school trailing far behind on the college-and-career-ready scale, schools have a very difficult time getting them up to target levels of academic preparation. And some interventions seemed to be more successful with different students at diferent levels along the scale. Eight-seven percent of Texas students who had started high school just a bit off track were on target when they completed one course beyond Algebra II, for instance. But taking the higher-level math course was only helpful for 2 percent of the students who started out the farthest off track.

More districts and states could undertake these sorts of analyses if they collect the right statistics and pool their data, Dougherty says. To find out what those numbers are, check out "Using the Right Data to Determine if High School Interventions are Working to Prepare Students for College and Careers."

The title may be unwieldy, but, given the growing number of states building longitudinal student-level databases across the country, the advice is likely to be timely.

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