FERMIN LEAL/EDSOURCE TODAY
Students walk along Bruin Walk at UCLA.

California needs a statewide system that tracks student performance from pre-school to college and beyond, several experts and lawmakers said at a state Senate hearing on Tuesday.

The state, which trails most states in providing such a system, needs to be able to answer questions about education quality and how students progress from K-12 to college and the workforce, speakers said.

The current information available is “all very disconnected, and there are gaps,” said Sen. Steven Glazer (D-Orinda), who conducted the hearing as the chair of the Select Committee on Student Success. Educators and the public do not have data that “in my view greatly improve students’ performance and their ultimate employment.”

The committee was created in early 2017 to explore best practices and innovation to improve student success.

The hearing reflected the urgency that many researchers, educators and advocates feel about the importance of establishing a way to track the progress of California students throughout the state’s public education system and beyond. Gov. Jerry Brown has resisted efforts to set up such a data tool. By contrast, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has expressed strong support for one, and backers of the data system will be looking to him for action on this issue should he be elected governor in November, with recent polls showing that is likely.

“This is profoundly important, and it gets lost because you don’t usually get celebrated for your IT upgrades,” Newsom said at a public forum in March. He reiterated his enthusiasm for such a system in a response to an EdSource questionnaire published in May.

Representatives of California’s public agencies for K-12, community colleges and the universities expressed varying degrees of support in creating that statewide data system. Speakers offered ways for California to link information collected by the state’s K-12 public school system, its public colleges and universities, and the workforce.

For Nathan Evans, a senior advisor to California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White, a statewide data system “really has to be focused on benefiting students.” He supports a data system that provides data “as close to real-time as possible so that we can have meaningful interventions with the students that are with us today.”

According to a report by the Education Insights Center, a research group at CSU Sacramento, such an approach which provides information that can immediately be used to help students would require timely updates and would be costlier than a data system that captures a few snapshots a year of how students are progressing within and across the systems.

Pamela Brown, vice president of institutional research at the University of California warned that such a project  “can be costly, they can be delayed.  Having patience with it is important.”

Still, Brown added: “Whatever you choose we’re here to partner and support that.”

The University of California alone spends about $3 million a year on its efforts to track high school, college and workforce data about its students, Brown said. That sum is higher than what a June report predicted such a statewide system would cost. The report estimated the cost at about $2 million annually.

Senate staff outlined in a report the information the public could obtain if such a system existed:

  • What percentage of the students who graduated from a district’s high schools enroll in college within eight months of graduation?
  • What percentage of those students need remediation once they arrive at college?
  • How are students’ chances of finishing college related to their high-school courses, grades and test scores?
  • Whether students attending a state-funded preschool “have a better chance of meeting state academic expectations in elementary school.”
  • What are the college majors that lead to the highest and lowest rates of employment?

California’s four major public education agencies — K-12 schools, California Community Colleges, California State University and the University of California —  each have robust data about how their students perform. And they make much of that information public.

The UC and CSU central offices, for example, show the number of students who enroll and graduate from individual high schools. A UC website makes public average earnings by popular majors. The community colleges offer typical wages by program through its Salary Surfer. However, the public could learn much more if these systems were linked to each other, officials testified.

“But the data are maintained in systems that are not connected, and are generally inaccessible for addressing the information needs of policymakers and education leaders,” reads a handout prepared for Tuesday’s hearing by Education Insights Center, which has published several reports about California’s incomplete education data system.

Major advocacy and research groups have for many years pressed for such a longitudinal data system. But while lawmakers in the past have proposed laws to develop one, those bills either stalled in the Legislature or were vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been described as skeptical of a statewide data tool.

“The hurdle has been lack of support by the administration,” said Paula Mishima, administrator of the California Department of Education’s K-12 data system known as CALPADS.

Experts and some lawmakers — including Sen. Glazer, whose bill to create a statewide longitudinal system stalled in the Legislature this year — are hopeful that the next governor will be more supportive of such a public data tool.

Mishima said the data would be valuable to the CDE because “the success of our K-12 system ultimately is measured by outcomes in terms of student success in college and the workplace.”

Erin Gabel, a deputy director at First 5 California, an early education advocacy group, echoed the role better data can play in public accountability. “Starting to track children when they enter either childcare or preschool will allow California to see how effective our early learning investments are,” she said.

Laura Metune, vice chancellor for external relations at the California Community Colleges, said “today’s hearing to establish a longitudinal data system very much supports” the goals that the California Community Colleges adopted in its 2017 “Vision for Success” document, which among other things stressed the role of data about the success of students after they finish their studies at community colleges.

And though not a formal participant in the hearing, Erica Romero, vice president of external relations for the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities — which represents 82 private nonprofit colleges — said during the public comment period that “we’ll be happy to work with you.”

“We educate almost as many undergraduates as the University of California,” she added. “So any longitudinal data system really should include” California’s private nonprofit schools.

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  1. Gil Compton 5 days ago5 days ago

    If the TK-12 mission is to prepare students for college and career, should the proposed data base integrate military accession numbers? There is no integrated database that tracks the post-secondary pathway for public high school graduates entering military service or the workforce. Current data only includes high school graduates that enroll and attend post-secondary educational institutions. As a result, public schools do not have the ability to evaluate college and career readiness programs.

  2. C. Fahmy 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Before the State moves to spend more money on another data system, we should look to see whether we have fully analyzed the data we already have. I believe, for example, the questions outlined in the five bullets in the article can already be answered with data our institutions already gather. To answer program evaluation-type questions such as these one only needs a sample of student data, not a full census from a statewide tracking … Read More

    Before the State moves to spend more money on another data system, we should look to see whether we have fully analyzed the data we already have. I believe, for example, the questions outlined in the five bullets in the article can already be answered with data our institutions already gather. To answer program evaluation-type questions such as these one only needs a sample of student data, not a full census from a statewide tracking system.
    Our institutions already have so much data from so many data systems they are not able to keep up with it and really use it to help students. It’s like the argument that I need to go buy groceries, when really I have the basics for a great meal in the kitchen already, and the grocery shopping yielded mostly unhealthy snacks anyway.
    Secondly, let’s be very mindful of widening exposure to private student information. Parents deserve to know exactly who has access and for what purposes their child’s information is being used. Please just let’s not rush into another data system. We know that putting more money into teacher professional development correlates to better student success. Let us continue to pursue avenues that are closer to teachers and students not closer to data vendors and public figures.

  3. Todd Maddison 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    This is exactly what we need to identify "best practices" in education. Many think that standard tests are either flawed or - at a minimum - only represent a "snapshot" of data that does not give a full picture of the success or failure of the educational system. This seems to be a much more end-to-end measurement system, which should give us more complete metrics to allow us to better examine what is or is not … Read More

    This is exactly what we need to identify “best practices” in education.

    Many think that standard tests are either flawed or – at a minimum – only represent a “snapshot” of data that does not give a full picture of the success or failure of the educational system.

    This seems to be a much more end-to-end measurement system, which should give us more complete metrics to allow us to better examine what is or is not working in the entire school system from Pre-K through graduate degrees.

    If we can clearly see that kids graduating from District X have better end results – in terms of grades, standard test scores, graduation rates, college attendance, college grades, graduation, and then ultimately tie that to the economic effects of that system (to see what kind of career that person ultimately was involved in), that gives us a much clearer picture of the entire chain.

    I hope this is something that Gavin Newsom does not conveniently forget about once elected…

  4. Dr. Bill Conrad 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    While it is certainly admirable that the state is moving to a K-16 longitudinal data system, its primary purpose will not be formative in support of students but rather summative in support of improved adult practices that support students. Let's hope that the state can improve the confusing way that it currently visualizes data through its Data Quest system. Let's also hope that they do not broker the services to an outside vendor that … Read More

    While it is certainly admirable that the state is moving to a K-16 longitudinal data system, its primary purpose will not be formative in support of students but rather summative in support of improved adult practices that support students. Let’s hope that the state can improve the confusing way that it currently visualizes data through its Data Quest system. Let’s also hope that they do not broker the services to an outside vendor that stakeholders must pay for as has been the theory of action in the past.