Will States Improve Their College- and Career-Readiness Reporting Under New ESEA?

By Catherine Gewertz — December 18, 2015 3 min read
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The Every Student Succeeds Act is now law, and it calls for states to produce public reports that show how well schools are preparing middle and high school students for their futures. The question is: How will states answer that call?

If history—and current practice—are any guide, the answer may be less than inspiring. So advocates for better outcomes in grades 6-12 are keeping a close eye on the regulatory process that will shape what states and districts do.

As a brief from the College & Career Readiness & Success Center at the American Institutes for Research shows, states vary widely in the kinds of college- and career-readiness metrics they report to the public. They all report test scores in math and English/language arts, and four-year graduation rates, of course, because federal law requires it. Most report science and social studies scores.

What other kinds of high school-related metrics do states report? Here’s a quick look. Hovering over this report is the question of how states will choose to shift their accountability metrics. Will they take the opportunity to create more meaningful reports?

SAT and ACT testing is a common one, according to AIR. But some states do more meaningful reporting on these metrics than others. For instance, many states report how many students took the college-entrance exams, or how well they scored. But far fewer chose to report how many students met the college-readiness benchmarks on those two tests, a key indicator of the likelihood of success in college.

Dual enrollment is another number that some states report. But once again, the issue is how meaningful a metric they choose. The AIR found that 15 states reported the number of students enrolled in dual-enrollment programs in 2014, but did not mention a single one that reports the proportion of those students that actually earn college credit. ESSA allows states to use access to, or completion of, challenging coursework as an accountability indicator. In downgrading federal authority, the new law doesn’t require states to do this. But in opening the door to such metrics, it points to their value.

Postsecondary outcomes. Fourteen states report only on how many students earned diplomas. The other 36, and the District of Columbia, include some measure of what happened next: College enrollment is the most common metric. But most don’t report on how well students do once they get to college. Fewer than half report on remediation rates. Ten states tell the public about their students’ college grade-point averages, or how well they’re accruing college credits. Only seven say whether students hung around long enough to start their sophomore year, and five report on whether students completed college degrees. ESSA doesn’t put much teeth in these kinds of reporting expectations: It asks states to include college-enrollment data in their accountability systems if possible.

Career and technical education participation. As the AIR brief points out, the Carl D. Perkins Act requires states to collect and report information on the number of students who participate in career and technical education, and on the number who concentrate in a given CTE pathway. But not all states appear to be meeting their federal obligations here: AIR finds that only 34 actually report the required data to the public. Beyond the “participation” kinds of metrics, few states choose to show outcomes. Only seven, for instance, report the number of students that receive industry certifications after completing CTE programs. (Kentucky and Georgia get shout-outs for exemplary reporting on career-related metrics.)

Well-rounded students. Only five states report the percentage of students earning credit in arts or foreign language courses, even though they’re college-entrance requirements in many places. Few states report data correlated with crucial skills such as higher-order thinking skills, social and emotional skills, employability, civic involvement, financial literacy, extracurricular activities, or “college knowledge.”

Transitions from elementary to middle and high school. This isn’t an area the AIR examined. But the ESSA requires states to include in their accountability systems some provision for ensuring successful movement from elementary to middle school, and middle to high school.

The AIR urges states to increase key details of their reporting by adding things that are strong indicators of whether students are on track for college, such as 3rd grade reading proficiency, completion of Algebra I in 8th grade, and completion of core courses in high school.

But for a report to be meaningful, it needs to do more than just add indicators. Here’s what AIR has to say:

For those measures states choose to report, the goal should be to provide the most meaningful information possible about student progress and success. Measure ‘students enrolled in AP and IB courses,’ for example, as well as ‘students scoring at or above benchmark’ on the exams. Measure ‘students earning credit in dual enrollment courses’ rather than just ‘students enrolled in dual enrollment courses.’ Measure ‘students requiring remediation’ rather than just ‘students taking remedial courses.’ Providing data that are disaggregated at the school level rather than the district or state levels also allows for a better picture of student performance.”

Photo credit: Evan Vucci/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.