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"Data Is Driving the Strategy": How REL West is Helping One Arizona High School Focus on College and Career Readiness

February 2020

A project update from the REL West Arizona Partnership for Education and Career Success

In Arizona, 70 percent of all jobs will require some form of postsecondary or career training by 2020.[1]

In response to this, a team of counselors and administrators at Flagstaff High School in Flagstaff, Arizona, has been working to transform the school’s culture—and that of the district and community—to focus on college and career readiness (CCR). In 2008, the state began requiring all students to complete an Education and Career Action Plan, or ECAP. Although Flagstaff High School was recognized by the Arizona Department of Education as an ECAP Exemplar School, meaning that the school was highlighted on the department’s website for having a strong implementation of ECAP, not everyone in the school had fully embraced a new culture of CCR. When the 2017-18 school year began, students were no more likely to enroll in college or career training programs than they had before the ECAP initiative.

During the 2017/18 school year, the Flagstaff team worked with REL West researchers to understand what barriers might be preventing a schoolwide culture shift. REL West researchers gathered artifacts, held focus groups, and analyzed public documents related to the school’s ECAP program to explore the disconnect between Flagstaff High School’s distinction as an Exemplar School and their struggles to build a college-going culture. The identified challenges included securing buy-in from teachers and school staff in the face of competing priorities; developing a strong, data-driven approach to tracking student postsecondary and career preparation; identifying strategies for effective use of existing data; and maintaining capacity among the school’s team to support continuous improvement.

With these barriers identified, REL West and the Flagstaff team then began to strategize on how to improve faculty engagement in CCR and measure the school’s progress toward improving CCR outcomes. Such efforts included providing professional development to teachers on how to incorporate CCR into their instruction and advisory periods, aligning data sources to measure the success of CCR efforts, and integrating CCR into existing ECAP processes.

At the same time, the Flagstaff team looked beyond the school walls to begin working with Flagstaff Unified School District and community partners with the aim of advancing shared CCR priorities. A key community partner is LAUNCH Flagstaff, which seeks to promote “cradle through career” success for all area youth. Current cross-sector projects underway include expanding the district’s ECAP program to include a districtwide CCR curriculum, establishing a strategic plan that includes CCR, and matching available data to strategic goals. REL West is supporting these ongoing efforts by providing guidance to the school, district, and LAUNCH Flagstaff on how to build and sustain a data-informed cross-sector coalition that will grow to include additional community partners.

REL West is also helping to build capacity among school and district staff to make effective use of their data. This has included creating a data inventory that pulls together all of the available CCR data sources across the school and district, as well as relevant local data from national CCR data sources. Having easily accessible data sources helps the school and the coalition track the outcomes of their CCR activities. For example, when the Flagstaff team identified measures for their CCR goals, they reviewed the data inventory to find extant measures.

As work continues, the Flagstaff High School team and the community coalition hopes to establish a strong culture of CCR at the high school, district, and community levels. REL West will provide coaching to the coalition on data use, and will serve as a thought partner as the group continues to strengthen their CCR efforts.

You can learn more about research on cross-sector partnerships to support education and career planning and what career-related data exists in Arizona by visiting the following webpages, which share some of the tools developed by REL West to support the Arizona Partnership for Education and Career Success:

[1] Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., & Strohl, J. (2013). Recovery: Projections of jobs and education requirements through 2020. Washington, DC: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.