Data released to help Kentucky school districts break down college barriers for students

08/17/2015 05:33 PM

A new online tool aimed at removing barriers for high school and college students to allow them to achieve academic success was unveiled Monday.

The Strategic Data Project — an initiative of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University in partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, 55,000 Degrees and Jefferson County Public Schools that was announced at a news conference at the Gheens Academy in Louisville Monday — includes data on college-going pathways, high school graduation, college enrollment and college persistence, or measuring how successful the student is once he or she reaches college.

The data included in the project show very different outcomes for different groups of Kentucky students. For example, top achievers are very likely to graduate high school on time and enroll in and persist in college. While students in the bottom quartile of achievement are likely to graduate from high school, they are unlikely to enroll in any post-secondary education, which will impact their future earnings and outcomes.

There also is great variation between student outcomes among high schools across the state. Data show some schools graduate a higher percentage of students in the lower performance percentile than other schools’ top quartile students.

Nicholas Morgan, executive director of the Strategic Data Project, says that the main purpose for the data is to allow state and local school districts to evaluate the results and make decisions on how to improve outcomes for its students.

“We do this work on college-going pathway issues, but also on human capital issues, and an expanding list of other things,” Morgan said. “It’s all about using this data to improve student outcomes in a variety of different ways.”

When it comes to college enrollment, data shows students in the lower performance quartile at some schools enrolling in college at greater rates than other schools’ top quartile students. Student poverty, achievement level entering high school and proximity to college are additional variables that have an impact on college-going in Kentucky.

Meg Nipson, research manager for the Strategic Data Project, says that the data isn’t about suggesting or dictating a solution for a particular school district, but to make them aware of what’s taking place.

“What we’re trying to do is raise the profile of data use and improve the availability of rigorous analytics for decision makers,” Nipson said. “What we want to do is say, we’re giving you some information about what’s happening at high schools all across your state. Maybe you can go and see schools that are beating the odds. Maybe schools can look for other schools that are beating the odds that have similar demographics and characteristics and kind of compare themselves.”

Members of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, which worked on a study looking at potential barriers for college-bound students, talked about challenges such as adequate college advising, financial aid and the availability of programs to help students develop non-academic “soft” skills that are standing in the way of some Kentucky students succeeding at the collegiate level.

One member of the team, Simmons College student Brooke Ratliffe, talked about how many students, including her, felt overwhelmed with the enrollment process.

“You’re in high school, you have teachers and counselors that are there, and you can ask questions all the time,” Ratcliffe said. “In college, it’s a big, broad thousands of students, and they don’t always have that time to commit to you one on one.”

Another member of the Student Voice Team, Naomi Kellogg, is a sophomore at Indiana University. She had the advantage of attending the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky, where counselors were available just about any time.

Even with the advantages of attending the academy, such as attending college classes as Western Kentucky University, she sometimes felt overwhelmed with the college process.

“When we did this project, lights started coming on in my head that there are students who have it so much worse and don’t have that support,” Kellogg said. “I think that was the light for me. If it’s hard for me, then how hard is it for everyone else?”

As for college persistence, there is a strong correlation with college readiness as demonstrated in ACT results.

Additionally, full-time college students are more likely to persist than those going part time, and students at four-year colleges have a higher persistence rate than students at two-year colleges.

Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director-elect of the Prichard Committee, says it’s time for educators to study the data and make sound decisions to improve potential outcomes for students.

“If they’re not pleased at how they’re doing, they need to begin having conversations at the local level about the strategies that are currently in place, and if they’re working, additional strategies they can employ to ensure that students are going on,” Ramsey said.

For a complete look at the Strategic Data Project results for Kentucky schools, click here.


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