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Effectively measuring the success of students once they finish high school has become increasingly important to education leaders throughout the country in recent years. Postsecondary achievement is a valuable indicator of a given school’s or district’s efficacy, but there are factors beyond school/district administrators’ control that can influence students’ success.

Contextual factors such as family background, community makeup, and technology access all play a role in students’ success after high school. However, few, if any, of these factors are taken into account by traditional statistical models that that decision-makers rely upon to create policies and programs to enhance postsecondary success efforts. Important decisions such as funding allocation, for example, are often based on data from traditional, one-dimensional models that aren’t giving policymakers a complete picture of postsecondary success in given schools and districts.

As part of REL Central’s College and Career Readiness Research Alliance work was conducted to develop more dynamic statistical models for assessing schools’ and districts’ influence on their students’ postsecondary success. These models will help education leaders better gauge the effectiveness of their programs and leadership by taking contextual factors into consideration when evaluating school and district performance.

REL Central’s recently released tool Steps to Develop a Model Estimating School and District Postsecondary Success demonstrates how to develop such models. It also provides guidance on how to compare different models and how to best use the information they generate.

In Kansas, this dynamic statistical model has been in place for several years and has produced favorable results for its users.

“Taking student risk factors into consideration when evaluating district postsecondary effectiveness provides a much fairer comparison by recognizing that communities are different,” said Kelly Spurgeon, analyst with the Kansas State Department of Education.

By incorporating metrics into accountability systems that go beyond state assessment scores, state and local education agencies will have a more comprehensive understanding of where students are succeeding in terms of postsecondary achievement. This more comprehensive picture of postsecondary achievement offers a lens of equity beneficial to decision-makers. The model helps make the comparison between underserved schools and districts to their more affluent peers, illustrating inequities.

This new tool is also able to help education leaders customize measurement criteria depending upon what is deemed most important to a given region. Every region has different needs based upon population density, industrial makeup, etc., and the postsecondary success model outlined by the tool can place different levels of emphasis on indicators such as workforce prep, college retention, civic readiness, and more.

Defining what makes a high school graduate “successful” and determining what influence schools and districts have on this success is inherently difficult. This new tool can help education leaders throughout the country to better evaluate school and district postsecondary achievement.