College SummitEngage and Prepare: the distillation of quality education.  Last week I wrote at length about engagement; here I want to return to two topics: the right data for data driven decision-making, and what it means to be serious about preparation.
As Tony Wagner writes in the Global Achievement Gap, Schools that work “hold themselves collectively accountable for quality student work and student success in college and beyond.. they keep track of how many students go on to postsecondary education and how well they do there.”

We are not serious about either topic, preparation or data,  if we limit our attention to SAT scores and the names of the colleges which admit our students are admitted.   Now I am not saying to eliminate altogether this pair, but I am saying that there is other information far, far more valuable to collect and use, and at the top of this list is the proficiency of our graduates in colleges, graduate schools and careers.

Addressing the topic this month is a valuable new monograph from College Summit and the Center for American Progress: “How College Proficiency Information Can Help High Schools Drive Student Success.”  “College proficiency reporting makes sure we don’t leave the success of America’s high schools to chance.”

The report, like my comments above, puts the focus on actual college success as the key indicator of high school effectiveness:

Finally, college proficiency measures actual college readiness. In recent years, there has been a strong movement to focus high schools not just on graduation, but on “readiness” for college and career. The problem is that readiness tends to be measured by prospective indicators, like scores on standardized tests or number of advanced courses taken; while those measures predict success, they don’t confirm it. By contrast, college proficiency provides actual proof of whether a high school has fulfilled its mission. If a student succeeds in her first year of postsecondary study, it is axiomatic that her school prepared her.

Now I should say that the report has a different population focus than the population of my own school sector; much of what they are asking high schools to identify is whether their graduates attend college at all,  and stay in college after freshman year.  For St. Gregory graduates (and NAIS graduates in general)  we need much more information about their success over their four years of college,  and also their graduate school proficiency.   But the report is nevertheless illuminating.

How do we collect this data?  I know I am working at my school now to determine the best tools for this, but I am fascinated and eager to learn more  about a program described in the report called the National Student Clearinghouse.  This is fascinating to me, and perhaps I am dumb not to know more about it already, but this group tracks college student success for high schools, giving high schools reports on “when and where their graduates enroll, how long they persist, whether they transfer, whether they graduate, what their degrees are, and their courses of study.”

I am unsure as of yet, having just checked it out, whether non-public schools are even eligible, but I will be investigating, and I will be considering carefully whether to spend the $450 to purchase the annual report of my school’s graduates success.   This data alone, too, I have to say is not enough: I want to know gpa, I want to know honors and awards, and I want to know graduate student enrollment, none of which appears to be available.

We need, of course, not just to collect the data, but also to delve into data analysis:

One of the key lessons of recent years is that data alone do not improve student outcomes. To be truly useful data must be deployed by educators who trust it, understand it, and use it to launch students in accordance with their mission. Otherwise, data inspire hostility at worst or are utterly useless at best.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation understands how important data use is. Recently, it set out to help schools access college enrollment data, investing in the technical improvements needed to make the data systems complete and the usability solutions necessary to make the data meaningful to end users. This two-pronged approach is necessary, in the foundation’s view, to ensure superintendents, principals, counselors, and teachers are able to see patterns and devise solutions in response to data.

Examples are provided of the how school districts are using this data for powerful effect, examples which don’t exactly inform how an independent school like my own would use the data, but there are still lessons and value.

From the conclusion of the executive summary of “How College Proficiency Information Can Help High Schools Drive Student Success“:

This paper is about helping every high school in America learn in a systematic, methodical way how its graduates are doing, whether in four-year colleges, two-year colleges, vocational programs, or apprenticeships. And it’s about making sure high schools can use that information every day to make sound, strategic decisions to launch their students to postsecondary success.

Nice. Let’s do it.