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Data shady on how recent HS grads really doing in college

By Meris Stansbury
April 4th, 2016

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New report reveals that measuring enrollment, remediation and persistence data is fuzzy thanks to varying state mandates.

In the first report of its kind, data from publicly available sources has been compiled to paint a picture of college and career readiness (CCR) in every state, with the aim of moving past policy to actual facts on whether or not students are college- and career-ready. So…are they?

It’s a question that’s tough to answer, concluded Achieve—an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization—due what the report describes as “significant limitations in the availability of data and inconsistencies in how they are reported across states.”

For example, just 15 states report data on how many students take and complete a high school course of study that would prepare them for college, and only 11 disaggregate that data by subgroups. 22 states report data on students earning college credit in high school through AP courses; just 7 of those states break those data down by subgroups. Only 7 states report how many students in 8th or 9th grade are on track to graduate based on timely credit accumulation.

“The inconsistency and lack of availability of the data makes it challenging for policymakers, educators, families, and advocates to get a clear answer to the simple question of whether high school graduates are prepared for postsecondary success,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, in a statement. “We need more transparency from states if we are to move the needle on readiness in a significant way.”

What We do Know

Looking at K-12 data, which aggregated several indicators of college- and career-readiness in each state (including students’ performance on CCR assessments, completion of a rigorous course of study, and earning college credit while in high school), Achieve’s researchers found that, for the most part, too few high school graduates are prepared to succeed in two- and four-year postsecondary institutions or the military.

But for postsecondary indicators, the results are fuzzier. In the postsecondary report, researchers looked at graduates’ enrollment, persistence, and remediation rates at two- and four-year colleges. Achieve found that states report on their graduates’ postsecondary outcomes at very different levels of comprehensiveness.

For example, states’ reporting differs in whether they include students pursuing postsecondary education at two- and four-year institutions, whether they follow both in-state and out-of-state attendees, whether data includes both public and private institutions, and whether their reporting is limited to graduates from high schools in their state or includes anyone enrolled in their state institutions.

“Further, states vary in how they define enrollment, remediation, and persistence. As such, comparisons across states are challenging — but worth understanding,” notes the report.

(Next page: Results from the postsecondary report)


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