Supporting the Creation of a Postsecondary Readiness Indicator

By Marguerite Huber

September 17, 2018

Students raise their handsSometimes it takes the collaboration of multiple organizations to accomplish one task. For instance, in the fall of 2017, the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) requested assistance in creating a postsecondary readiness indicator. To address this request, the Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC) teamed up with experts from Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest and the College & Career Readiness & Success Center (CCRS Center).

Why did IDE need to create a postsecondary readiness indicator in the first place? With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state must include an indicator of school quality or student success in their methodology for identifying low-performing schools. ESSA gives states flexibility to choose this indicator but suggests postsecondary readiness as one potential focus. Substantial evidence exists that college and career readiness measures are better predictors of postsecondary success than high school graduation rates.

When IDE submitted its ESSA plan in September 2017, it left a placeholder explaining that its postsecondary readiness indicator would be developed with the help of stakeholders during the 2017–18 school year in a four-stage process. The first stage involved establishing a Postsecondary Readiness Indicator Workgroup.

To assist the workgroup, MWCC and the CCRS Center worked together to complete a literature review examining the relationships between potential postsecondary readiness measures that Iowa might consider and the student outcomes identified in the state’s definition of postsecondary readiness. Additionally, MWCC conducted a scan of the postsecondary readiness measures included in other states’ ESSA plans.

In the second stage, REL Midwest researchers conducted a coaching session on the development of the indicator and literature review in March 2018. Attendees included workgroup members, IDE staff, superintendents from rural and urban districts, counselors, professional organizations, and university admissions officials.

The coaching session focused on how to design a postsecondary readiness indicator that will meet IDE’s needs. The research base for measures of postsecondary readiness that IDE might consider, such as participation or performance in advanced/college-level coursework, individualized career plans, and career and technical education pathways, were covered. Afterward, attendees had the opportunity to evaluate each of the 18 measures under consideration using the following criteria: technical quality (e.g., relationship to postsecondary outcomes), stakeholder relevance (e.g., actionable results), and system utility (e.g., cost to implement data collection).

Following the evaluations, the findings from the state scan conducted by MWCC and the CCRS Center were presented. The scan found that 35 states include at least one measure of postsecondary readiness in their accountability systems. Having an idea of other states’ accountability practices can help Iowa understand the spectrum of approaches to measuring postsecondary readiness and combine best practices to reach its own approach. When attendees were asked what they thought was the most helpful aspect of the coaching session, many agreed that the depth of the state scan was greatly beneficial.

“The workgroup’s engagement level exceeded expectations,” David English, MWCC senior technical assistance consultant, reflected. “We weren’t certain how some of the more technical content of the literature review and state scan would resonate with the group, but they were a sophisticated group, and their questions and engagement level indicated they appreciated the nuts-and-bolts approach to measure design that our final report took. I think they were eager to sort through some technical questions, and as a result, their breakout groups at the working group session were very animated, and our report provided a good launching point for the discussion.”

Now that the second stage of indicator development—obtaining stakeholder feedback—has been completed, the next stages are in the hands of IDE. The third stage involves piloting the indicator, followed by the last stage of incorporating it into Iowa’s accountability index beginning in the 2018–19 school year. “Our role was to provide support to IDE in the postsecondary readiness indicator decision-making process,” Amy Feygin, MWCC senior researcher, concluded. “The decision is a deeply local one, and now they have the tools that they need to agree on what indicator is best for Iowa’s students.”