Ernest Calderón: We Arizonans must take advantage of the momentum to redesign and improve our existing educational structures.
We Arizonans must take advantage of the momentum to redesign and improve our existing educational structures. From pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, through advanced higher education, the learning continuum is being reshaped to reflect the Arizona's growing need for a competent, skilled and educated citizenry. Gov. Jan Brewer and the Arizona Board of Regents have called for doubling the number of bachelor's degrees awarded by 2020.
Arizona currently trails the rest of the nation in college completion and other key measures of educational performance. According to the 2004 Board of Regents' High School Eligibility Study, less than half of our public high school graduates qualify academically to enroll in public universities. We must reverse this trend and encourage students to map a course toward college. In order to do so, we must also measure their success and failure from their initial points of entry into the educational system.
At the June regents' meeting, I proposed a single student record system for the state's public schools, community colleges and universities to serve as a central repository for student data. Unfortunately, none exists at this time. With such a system in place, administrators could simultaneously assess student progress at every phase of learning, examine the effectiveness of educational practices and chart student outcomes. While this platform would be built in stages (imagine pieces of a pipeline being connected one by one), tools presently available could serve as the foundation.
StudentTracker, a product offered by the nonprofit National Student Clearinghouse, is an expanding database that tracks student progress after graduation from high school. More than 3,300 American colleges and universities participate in the NSC, including all three Arizona public universities and most of the state's community colleges.
At a cost of less than $125 annually per high school, the college-going rate of Arizona students could be analyzed and categorized by school, district or county. We could begin to identify trends in student outcomes - which students delay enrollment in college, drop out and/or later return, transfer, or do not pursue a degree at all. We could also learn what degrees students are earning, and how long it is taking to earn them. We would learn where we are losing the students who attend college outside Arizona and for what reasons. Most importantly, we would establish a method for identifying and tracking individual students at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
As with most enterprises, education is a collaborative endeavor. One hand must know what the other is doing. We have called upon Arizona's educators, at all levels, to adopt the common goal that a college degree is the "default" outcome in a student's academic journey.
Implementing a central database like StudentTracker is one step toward a much broader redesign of the state's educational architecture. It represents the type of upgrade to our current capabilities that is essential to the flow of useful information across the entire educational spectrum. We must invest in tools that enable educators to attain the goals that have been set for them, especially when they are readily available and affordable.
Arizona can take a giant leap forward by taking the simple step of adopting a single student record system.
Ernest Calderón of Phoenix is president of the Arizona Board of Regents.