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Faced with an evolving job market, concern with the relevancy of their career and technical education (CTE) programs, and a desire to increase postsecondary success rates of CTE programs, three states are working with REL Central to improve cross-agency data sharing to discover and fill in gaps in student-outcome data. That data may answer questions as to whether schools are providing equitable access to the skills students need to enter and succeed in the workforce and college.

State legislation in Kansas and Nebraska compelled education departments and other agencies to share student outcome data with each other. While data sharing was an important first step, state education, higher education, and labor agencies, among others, quickly saw an opportunity to think more deliberately about the use of data and ways to work toward shared goals. Together, they are working with REL Central to improve student readiness for college and the workplace through the project “Review of College and Career Technical Education in Three States.”

The project will help agencies in Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota better examine CTE student outcome data. They will determine the potential for increased data sharing between agencies in their state – and possibly in other states. State education, higher education, and workforce agency staff will work closely with REL Central staff to identify data and gaps in data collection that can be used to discover potential research questions that examine the relationships between CTE course-taking secondary and postsecondary outcomes.

Representatives from Kansas and Nebraska explained their intentional shift from cooperating with state agencies to share student outcome data to working collaboratively with agencies to harness the data to develop education initiatives. This collaborative approach has allowed agency staff to look to the diversity of its student populations and towards means to ensure an equitable education for all subgroups. Dean Folkers, chief information officer at the Nebraska Department of Education, explained that the collaborations have allowed agencies to begin “answering bigger, bolder, and broader questions associated with equity; not just creating information, but providing the foundation for policy, approaches, and ultimately learning through the processes.”

It has also resulted in new programs like Nebraska’s reVISION initiative. Through this program, school administrators, counselors, career educators, and industry professionals are connected through the program to analyze a school’s career education system and identify ways to ensure that it is meeting industry needs. Administrators and stakeholders then use these to develop a plan to make enhancements to the system.

Similarly, in Kansas, the Kansas Board of Regents and the state agencies of commerce, education, and labor aligned their data in a collaboration that produced the web-based Kansas Career Navigator. The navigator seeks to provide information to students and job seekers regarding education and training programs available by county and local areas in conjunction with real-time, high-wage, in-demand, occupational opportunities.

“Students and families within the community want a means to explore career options,” said Stacy Smith, assistant director for Kansas Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education. “Through the collection and sharing of data, we have been able to create the Kansas Career Navigator to help students do just that.”

Both Kansas and Nebraska recognize that they are just beginning to explore cross-agency data sharing and the collaboration process. They look forward to the technical support they will receive through REL Central. They further hope to develop a map of student outcome data that SEAs could share to solve common challenges, and will explore ways to share data across states.

“As with anything that requires time, energy, and resources, the resulting outcomes [from our collaborations] create a new paradigm for moving forward and open up new and different possibilities,” Folkers said. “The process is extremely important to respect and work through as it creates the foundation for the future.”