Can we predict what will help kids climb the ladder to college and career success?
GUEST COLUMN | by Katie McClarty
Teachers and parents have long been interested in learning how to best prepare children for the future, and identifying early predictors of success. “Will my child be a famous scientist, or a literary genius?” While we can’t predict those outcomes, we can use data to provide early indications that students are on the right path. As importantly, we can use data to identify at-risk students. By monitoring key predictors from an early age, we can identify necessary interventions while there is ample time to correct course, helping all students become college-and career-ready.
In fact, the earlier we can detect telltale signs of students veering off course, the better.
To begin, we must break up the educational timeframe, recognizing that each year impacts the next. You can think of it as a ladder and each school year as a rung. As in climbing a ladder, you must start with a strong foothold: there are elementary predictors of middle school success, middle school predictors of high school success, and high school predictors of college success. Throughout each step, we can track progress and flag issues. Importantly, we can measure the influence of any needed interventions over short time periods, or from one rung to the next, beginning at the lowest rung. This is critical because we don’t want to wait until we are halfway up the ladder to find there’s a problem, or that an earlier issue was never fully resolved – that’s too late!
In fact, the earlier we can detect telltale signs of students veering off course, the better. According to the ACT report, College and Career Readiness: The Importance of Early Learning, “students who were far off track in eighth grade had only a 10 percent chance in reading, six percent chance in science, and three percent chance in mathematics of reaching the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks by twelfth grade.” In higher poverty schools, those numbers are even lower. Each rung is critical, not just the top ones.
Already, school districts nationwide are using data to build early warning systems to identify at-risk students. However, most of these only focus on the ABC’s—attendance, behavior and course performance—that are typically included in a school’s student information system (SIS).
Measuring attendance, behavior, and course performance is a good start toward predicting graduation and even college readiness, but it’s just a start. At Pearson’s Center for College & Career Success, our research shows there are other important contributors, particularly in the areas of behavior and motivation, such as the number of incomplete assignments, students’ aspirations and mindset, relationships with teachers, and parental support.
We are taking a combined approach to predicting whether middle school students will successfully climb the ladder and be prepared for college when they graduate. In our research, we organized predictors into six categories: academic achievement, behavior, motivations, school factors, home factors, and social engagement. Using the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS), we not only predicted college readiness (as measured by high school grades and admissions test scores), but also determined the relative impact of each of the six categories.
We found that achievement, as expected, is the most predictive. However, motivation and behavior are also significant factors and, together, are better predictors than achievement alone. This is important because aspects such as tardiness, time spent on homework, and students’ college or career goals can be monitored and adjusted as needed.
The potential of this type of data is attention-worthy. If we are going to use data as predictors, then we must also use it as a “leg up” in each student’s climb to success. Forward-thinking schools are integrating multiple sources of data through SIS and other systems to identify issues more quickly and intervene as necessary. Rather than looking separately at attendance, behavior, and course performance, our ultimate goal is to create a more holistic picture of student readiness: can they successfully climb that next rung and the one after it?
As problems are identified and addressed, data can also help track student response to interventions and inform teachers, students and parents of progress. The key is to have technology in place to integrate data systems so that information is analyzed and communicated back to all parties in a timely manner.
Looking forward, as longitudinal student data become more readily available and data systems are better integrated, schools will be able to assess readiness on an ongoing basis. New data collection opportunities will also emerge as schools begin implementing digital curriculum and activities that make it possible to track additional factors, such as time spent on homework, which our research suggests is an important predictor of success.
The ladder from kindergarten to graduation and college readiness has many rungs, each of which can be measured and assessed. The data is there and is becoming increasingly more accessible. Technology has the opportunity to help translate that data into actionable predictors that educators can use to help all students successfully navigate their climb!
Katie McClarty is Director of the Center for College and Career Success in Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network. She leads a team of researchers in planning and executing research in support of the Center mission, which is to (1) identify and measure the skills needed to be successful in college and careers, (2) determine pathways for students to be college and career ready, (3) track their progress along the pathway, and (4) evaluate effective ways to keep students on track.