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2011 December 12 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : Wash. Tracks Kids From Kindergarten to College

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state education officials know a lot more about current students than they ever knew about their parents.

They can now track a child from kindergarten through college enrollment and soon will be able to tell you everything about every kid who has gone to school in Washington from preschool through their first job.

Everything includes every school they attended, every achievement test they passed or failed, their ethnic identity, whether they qualified for free lunch, what college they chose, if they had to take remedial courses, when they started college, and more.

Of course this information is anonymous to outside viewers, including researchers and the public, but it gives local school officials a lot to comb through to find ways to improve the way they prepare kids for college and the world.

For example, Seattle Public Schools can see in a new report from the Education Research & Data Center that about 73 percent of the class of 2009 enrolled in college after high school, and that the schools most likely to get students from Seattle were the University of Washington, the local community colleges and Western Washington University. The district also sent three graduates to MIT, two to Harvard and three to NYU.

The report also shows that about 22 percent of the Seattle kids who went to college had to take remedial math classes — pre-college math — when they got there. About half that many had to take pre-college courses in English.

Statewide, about 63 percent of all 2009 high school graduates enrolled in college. About a quarter of those 39,537 young people needed to take remedial courses in math, and 13 percent weren’t ready for college English.

Mark Teoh, executive director of research, evaluation, assessment and development, said the state is now offering this information to parents, giving them another tool for understanding school districts and high schools.

“I want to applaud the fact that ERDC is putting this information out there,” he said.

Brian Vance, principal of Seattle’s Roosevelt High School, said the college tracking information helps his staff assess if they are making progress in improving student readiness for college.

“This is a good way to verify the numbers and get some confirmation that we’re on track,” he said. Until a few years ago, the district was relying entirely on self-reporting by students to keep track of who goes to college.

Vance likes the way the state data lists all the individual colleges his students are going to, compared to a national site, College Tracking Data Services, which reports enrollment numbers.

But he would like to see more detailed data, including college numbers by ethnicity, which the state said will be added soon.

The national college tracking site includes data on how many high school graduates make it to the second year of college, which Vance said is as important as college acceptance.

State officials hope to use the information they are gathering about college enrollment to help others better prepare for college and succeed once they get there and they expect to expand their reports in the near future.

“The silver bullet is to pay attention to people all the way through,” said David Prince, director of research and analysis for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

The state’s new and improved data center meshes well with efforts in Washington’s K-12 and college systems to help kids understand what they need to do to prepare for college-level math, for example, Prince said.

Colleges expect students to know more math than they are required to master for a Washington diploma, but some students  don’t find this out until they apply or enroll, Prince said.

If the state can close that information gap, while continue to raise its math standards, fewer high school graduates will need to take remedial math in college.

The high school to college report is the first example of what the state’s new student data system can do, said Katie Weaver-Randall of the Education Research Data Center.

Eventually, the state will follow-up on non-graduates and track the path of high school grads who do not go to college. Another report will focus on college graduates to see if they got jobs after leaving school. 

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