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Measuring post-graduate success can be difficult

April 28, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

Washington County Public Schools officials in recent years have emphasized getting students ready for college or careers, but it can be difficult to measure success after the students have left the school system.

Several Washington County Board of Education members said they’d like to know more about how the school system’s students fare after they graduate, but said obtaining such information could be difficult and expensive.

That could change in the next few years with the creation of a statewide data system that will help track information as graduates progress to post-secondary education and the work force.

Four years ago, the state of Maryland began rolling out student identifier numbers and each public school student in kindergarten through 12th grade now has one, said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

The numbers will be used with a data system that, when completed, will connect student data from kindergarten through 12th grade to higher education and into the work force, said Jon Enriquez, associate director of research and policy analysis for the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The data system is a collaboration of the commission, the state education department and the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Enriquez said.

Maryland planned the student identifiers several years ago, but the federal money the state received for participating in the Race to the Top education initiative will help make sure the data system is completed, Reinhard said.

The system will be designed to answer 15 policy questions, Enriquez said.

Those questions include what percentage of students who leave high school enroll in a Maryland post-secondary school; what percentage of those students need remedial work and in which subjects; and how likely students placed in remedial programs are to continue their post-secondary education and transfer or graduate, Enriquez said.

Another question tackles the effect of dual-enrollment programs that allow high school students to take courses that enable them to earn both high school and college credit, he said. That question aims to determine the difference in performance, retention and graduation for students in dual enrollment, including how long it takes them to earn a college degree, he said.

Currently, the list does not include a question about students going straight from high school to the work force, Enriquez said. Nor is there a question about what students study in college, but Enriquez said both questions might be added.

By state law, the data system is to be ready by 2014, but Enriquez said it could be operational by 2013.

Designers hope to incorporate student data from past years, but since the student identifier numbers that students have tend not to follow them into post-secondary education, matching those earlier students with their college data is a challenge, he said.

Those identifiers will begin to follow Maryland students into Maryland post-secondary institutions as early as the high school Class of 2012, Enriquez said.

Once the system has sufficient data, one of the things it could eventually do is enable a school system to find out what its graduates first jobs were, regardless of whether they began those jobs right out of high school or after college or graduate school, Enriquez said.

Washington County Public Schools currently has statistics on how many of its graduates go to Hagerstown Community College and how many of those students HCC determines need remedial work in math, reading or English, according to documents the school system provided.

The school system also has information about how many of its graduates enroll in college the fall, the first year and the second year after graduating from high school and how many of those students return to college for their sophomore year. That information is broken down by public or private, two- or four-year and in-state or out-of-state colleges.

Years ago, the school system worked with a company to survey former students to find out how they were doing and how their high school experience was, Assistant Superintendent Donna Hanlin said.

“Once they’re gone, it’s really hard to get students to answer you in some way when you’re dealing directly with the student,” Hanlin said.

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