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Let’s Tie New State Investments to Data and Quality

March 9, 2022 | Roneeta Guha

As part of an overall strategic vision focused on innovation, economic growth, workforce training, climate change, and health, California Governor Newsom has proposed an unprecedented investment in young people to drive our state’s future. The budget blueprint includes $2 billion for initiatives to prepare youth for college and careers, including $1.5 billion for college and career pathways and $500 million for dual enrollment. The proposed investments are part of a “multi-pronged strategy to train workers to meet critical job needs to support California’s economic growth” and designed to support young people in transitioning seamlessly from high school to college and careers.

These proposed investments are based on evidence of what works to keep young people connected to purpose and on a path to success. High-quality pathways that integrate college and career preparation, such as in the Linked Learning approach, have been shownto improve high school graduation rates, credit completion, college preparatory course completion, and workforce readiness skills. Students of color and students who start high school behind academically, in particular, benefit from an integrated approach and are more likely than peers in traditional high school programs to enroll directly in a four-year college. Research also shows the value of dual enrollment. Studies find students who participate in dual enrollment have higher rates of high school graduation, college enrollment, and degree completion that similar peers, and that the positive effects on college degree attainment “are even stronger for low-income students than for their more affluent peers” and that “dual enrollment has the potential to yield public savings by reducing the time it takes to earn a college degree.”

The proposed investments are welcome at a time when increasingly young people are disconnecting from their futures, as evidenced by declines in high school graduation, assessment scores, and college enrollment rates throughout California. However, to ensure the investments have their intended impact, it is critical to collect data that informs policy and practice so that we can continue to fund what works. That’s why it’s important to tie the $2 billion investment in pathways and dual enrollment to the state’s Cradle to Career (C2C) Data System,a statewide, longitudinal data system that was established under legislationpassed in 2019 and received $15 million in the 2021-2022 state budget for continued development. The system aims to link existing data across educational segments, from early childhood to K-12 to postsecondary, and workforce, financial aid, and social services. The data system includes valuable tools that that can help families, educators and communities track individual student progress over time as they transition through educational segments, from birth/pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, to postsecondary education, and on into the workforce. It will provide timely and critical data that can help policymakers make informed decisions that drive our economic recovery and future growth; college and career planning tools for students and families; and early warning indicators for educators to monitor students’ engagement and help inform timely interventions.

It is encouraging to see that the Golden State Pathways Program proposed in the Governor’s January 2022-2023 budget proposal requires the collection of aggregate and disaggregated student data on a range of metrics. These include academic performance, number of program graduates, A-G completion rates, postsecondary credits earned, internships and apprenticeships completed, number of career technical education courses completed, postsecondary enrollment, postsecondary credential attainment, and transitions to employment, apprenticeships, or job training within the sector of the pathway program. The budget trailer bill calls for this data to be included in C2C (to the extent possible) and calls for funds to be set aside for an independent evaluation. It also recognizes the importance of quality implementation by requiring technical assistance providers to leverage evidence-based frameworks like Linked Learning. This information will be invaluable to ensure that pathways developed under this grant program are meeting quality standards established by the field, producing equitable student outcomes, and truly preparing young people for postsecondary education and careers.

As more and more students across California participate in pathways that integrate college and career courses and experiences, the state should consider collecting data not just on the individual components of a pathway experience (A-G completion, CTE course completion, dual enrollment, internship completion), but on the overall impact of pathway participation itself. The key to student success is the integration of these components in a way that makes learning relevant to their postsecondary plans and aspirations. We need to know: How many integrated college and career pathways exist currently? How many new ones are developed as a result of the Golden State Pathways Program? How many are high-quality, as evidenced by meeting standards for excellence in integrated college and career preparation? How many students are enrolled in these pathways across the state? Do their high school and postsecondary educational and workforce outcomes differ than for students in traditional high school programs?

Currently there is no centralized means for collecting pathway-level data or for tracking the quality of those pathways. But we can learn a lot from Linked Learning districts that have established systems for pathway data collection—districts like Antelope Valley Union High School District, Los Angeles Unified, Long Beach Unified, Oakland Unified, and San Bernardino City Unified. Collecting and analyzing quality data on student outcomes in and beyond their pathway experiences ensures college and career pathways are serving all young people equitably, driving us closer to a future where all Californians leave high school ready to take on postsecondary education and the workforce.