Data That Matters: Giving High Schools Useful Feedback on Grads' Outcomes

Charts You Can Trust | November 8, 2011
Image of a high school/college student. credit: istock

Today, there is a growing agreement that students should leave high school "college- and career-ready." But what does that mean? And how can high schools tell if they are meeting the goal?

It's not easy, says Policy Analyst Anne Hyslop, in Data That Matters: Giving High Schools Useful Feedback on Grads' Outcomes. In it, Hyslop lays out the benefits of a unified data system that could provide high schools with timely information about their graduates.

According to a 2010 Deloitte educational survey, only 13 percent of high school educators receive reports of their graduates' academic performance in college. Most frequently, principals receive college readiness information through occasional anecdotes from former students and their families. Worse, 8 percent of educators reported they receive no information at all.

But, thanks to significant investments in K–12 and higher education data systems, there is progress on developing a system that will give high schools the information they need. Now over 40 states can collect information about college readiness. Yet fewer—only eight—are using that information in ways that can materially improve college preparation.

In Data That Matters, Hyslop identifies four characteristics—the 4Ts—of the most successful college readiness reports. They must be:

  • Transparent. When data is open and accessible, Hyslop says, "school officials can use it to build internal pressure, and parents, legislators, and others can use it to generate external pressure on high schools to improve."
  • Thorough. Reports should include multiple measures from all high schools in the state, and from all graduating classes.
  • Timely. Information needs to be received quickly enough for schools to make needed changes.
  • Tailored. "The more user-friendly the data is, the more likely it is to be tapped to improve instruction," Hyslop points out.