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Keeping track of grads a tall order

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Local high schools don’t want to lose touch with graduates after they’ve received their diplomas and started college or a career.

School officials want to know how well students’ middle and high school courses prepared them for life after their senior year. Schools receive reports from agencies such as the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, detailing how many graduates needed to take remediation courses in college and how long students at public colleges in the state are taking to graduate.


But that data isn’t as specific as school officials want it to be.

Greenwood schools, for example, would like to be able to track students who finished taking all of their required math courses after their sophomore or junior years. That way school officials could see whether students who take one to two years off from math need to take refresher courses in college that they don’t earn credit for, assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said.

With that information, officials could change high school math requirements to help ensure students’ math skills were strong when they went to college, Ahlgrim said. But right now, the state and school districts have no way of tracking how well individual students are doing after they finish 12th grade.

Later this year, the state will pool information from the Indiana Department of Education, the Department of Workforce Development and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education into an updated database called the Indiana Network of Knowledge, or INK. The hope is that the database will give schools, students and parents more information about how different courses prepare students for jobs, and what the availability and wages for those jobs are expected to be in the future, said Jackie Dowd, who is the special assistant to the governor for career innovation.

The new system still won’t track individual graduates’ progress after high school.

“The amount of time and labor it would take to really keep a comprehensive database of where all our graduates are just makes it prohibitive,” Ahlgrim said. “If we had more data about the academic and career progress of our students after high school, we would certainly use that information to advise programming here.”

The departments of education and workforce development and the higher education commission already work together to generate reports detailing the kinds of degrees high school graduates earn, the number of students who go on to college, the number of graduates who need to take courses in college to strengthen their math and English skills and how long students are taking to graduate. Earlier this year state lawmakers approved creating the INK database with information about careers and how to prepare for them, Dowd said. A committee will create a timeline for when to launch the new database later this year.

In the meantime, school districts are looking for other ways to track students’ progress after high school.

Several years ago, Clark-Pleasant tried mailing surveys to students, asking them questions about their successes in college and their careers. But so few students returned the surveys that the school district couldn’t do anything useful with the information, assistant superintendent John Schilawski said.

“We were putting a lot of energy into that and not getting the response and participation needed to make it a useful tool,” he said.

Now, officials are considering purchasing a computer program that would help students identify and plan for potential careers earlier and possibly allow the school district to track whether students attain those careers after high school. The program, called Naviance, would ask students in middle school about jobs or subjects they’re interested in. Students create a list of potential careers, start looking at the kinds of education or training they’ll need, and the kinds of courses they’ll need to take and master in high school, Schilawski said.

For example, students who decide in seventh grade they want to be a pediatrician will see what they’ll have to do in middle and high school to have a chance at getting into medical school, Schilawski said.

Clark-Pleasant could use the program to keep in touch with students after they graduate. The program would email students, asking them to fill out surveys about how well high school prepared them to meet their goals. And because students already would be familiar with the program, they might be more likely to take the time to answer the questions.

“It’s something that they’re already familiar with because they would have been using this for several years in their high school career,” Schilawski said.

Clark-Pleasant officials are still at least a year away from deciding whether to purchase and use the program. If they do, Schilawski said, it likely won’t be implemented for at least two years.

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