How to Use Student-Level Data to Improve College and Career Readiness

Posted by Jeff WatsonO

The primary purpose of K-12 schools is to prepare students for success in the real world. For many this means being prepared and successful in postsecondary programs and for most it means having skills needed for a successful career. With this goal in mind, K12 benefits from information and data systems help all students reach their highest potential.


The number and variety of stakeholders that contribute to an individual student’s K-12 journey is rather remarkable. Over the course of their primary and secondary education, a typical student will receive classroom instruction from dozens of teachers, interact with a number of counselors or other mentors, follow the guidelines set forth by at least a handful of administrators, and perhaps even receive additional support services from specialists, programs, and interventions. Last but certainly not least, parents and guardians play a substantial role in nurturing, supporting, and guiding their children through their educational journey.


Given the complexity of our educational systems, it is unlikely that school districts will achieve effective decision support systems unless they are very purposeful in their design and implementation of those systems. Vision and purpose are not enough; those must be scaffolded with sufficient human, technical and financial resources. We will continue to perpetuate a siloed and disjointed approach to instructional decision making, unless we align our decision support systems to a systemic view of student success.


Establishing Appropriate Milestones


Ultimately, the primary objective of our public school system is to guide children into adulthood with the tools and skills they need to be successful in tomorrow’s world. However, we can’t travel such vast distances without a planned route and navigational markers. These milestones may take any number of shapes and should help us reach our future goals and understand how much progress we’ve made in the past. They should also help us understand when we’ve deviated from our intended course.


As a general rule, these milestones are most useful when they combine near, mid, and long term outcomes. Additionally, they should offer us data points that range from highly-specific objectives and skills to more general learning goals. Milestones should also encompass the whole child, and they should be aligned to the best practices for a variety of PK12 roles.


For example, imagine that a school district had a goal to maximize the number of students who successfully complete calculus prior to graduation. Once this goal is set, the district can reverse-engineer a standard course sequence that allows enough time for the average student to achieve it: pre-calc in eleventh grade, trigonometry in tenth grade, and algebra in ninth grade. At this point, the district can set milestones relative to that course sequence. They can also measure and report whether or not students have sufficient self-efficacy to feel capable of achieving this kind of academic goal. The district may also use these milestone to measure their progress through an equity lense. Do all students have the same opportunities afforded to them? Of course, completing algebra in the 9th grade depends on students’ educational success in elementary and middle school. The milestones need to be extended down to as early as possible for each and every child.


We Have To Be Ready to Act


Establishing milestones is an empty gesture if a district doesn’t also empower action. We all understand that once a student fails to reach a milestone in a timely manner — whether because of personal circumstances, family instability, or anything else — staying on track becomes more difficult. Not only must the student pursue measures to reach the missed milestone, but they must do so while taking steps to not fall behind in other areas.


Avoiding this pitfall ultimately boils down to a commitment to delivering personalized support to each and every student at the right time and with the right effect. By encouraging data-driven insights and on-the-ground reporting from educators to inform both milestone creation and intervention programs, district administrators can ensure that their efforts have a meaningful, measurable impact on the students they serve.


District-Wide Collaboration


Establishing goals, helping students work toward them, and assisting those students who’ve fallen behind requires buy-in from multiple sources. Administrators, educators, counselors, and aides must work together in helping students achieve appropriate milestones and ensuring that students who aren’t meeting them are identified and supported.


Essential to streamlining this effort is the coordination of student datasets related to performance, attendance, and other characteristics that may impact their academic journey. With the help of data-driven early warning systems like Hoonuit, educators can not only contextualize and assess an individual student’s needs and progress, but easily administer corresponding interventions.


Learn more about early warning systems in our white paper, Facilitating Effective Interventions.

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