News: NCAN News

To & Through Advising Challenge Panels Draw Partners in the Field, Emphasize Data

Monday, March 9, 2020  
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By Janai Raphael, Graduate Assistant for Research and Data Analysis

Last month, dozens of K-12 and higher education stakeholders joined NCAN at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Washington, D.C., office to discuss “the data that matter and the plans that work” during an event focused on school districts and partner organizations using big ideas to prepare students for success beyond high school. This event convened various education stakeholders to learn about NCAN’s insights and lessons learned from nearly two years of the To & Through Advising Challenge. The event also served as a release of a white paper profiling five Advising Challenge participants.

The event, titled “New Districtwide Approaches to Student Success Beyond High School,” began with opening remarks from Bill Tucker, senior advisor of K-12 programs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, describing a few of the highlights of the Advising Challenge. “This work matters,” says Tucker. “We know schools can make a difference, and we have some idea how.”

Bill DeBaun, NCAN’s director of data and evaluation, then shared some sobering data on college enrollment, completion, and attainment rates and the disparities that exist between different student demographics. DeBaun also shared data from the RAND American School Leader Panel, which asked U.S. high school principals whether they had access to student-level postsecondary enrollment data on their own students. More than a quarter, 27%, of principals said they did not have access to student-level data and 39% of principals said they only had access to district- or school-level data.

A primary goal of the event was to raise awareness among district leaders and other stakeholders about using National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) student-level data, which is available to every U.S. education agency, as a tool to learn more about students’ postsecondary enrollments after they graduate from their schools. However, knowing the data exists is only half the battle. Knowing how to effectively use the data can be another challenge. DeBaun asked the audience, “How do you change practice at the school district level in this short a period of time when even the smallest districts’ trajectories seem to shift slowly?”

The event’s first panel sought to answer that question. The panel featured four representatives from school districts or partner organziations who shared their experiences using NSC data to redesign their postsecondary supports and to launch new initiatives and resources to propel their students towards success. The first panel featured:

  • Adam Blevins, Career Coach, Jefferson Country Board of Education
  • Lauren Bloem, Manager of Monitoring and Evaluation, AchieveMpls
  • Yvonne Green, College, Career, and Life Readiness Specialist, Broward County (Florida) Public Schools
  • Dr. Yolanda Johnson, Executive Officer for Student Services, Springfield (Massachusetts) Public Schools

Dr. Johnson shared that using NSC data “provided us the opportunity to have very focused conversations” about how they could best support their students. From these conversations, they learned that there was an overwhelming need to begin students’ postsecondary planning much earlier and to have their middle schools in engaged in helping to prepare students for college. Springfield (Massachusetts) Public Schools began providing students with college and career advising beginning in the sixth grade that continues throughout their time in the district.

Green said, “Data produces conscience and created urgency for us to change things.” In her district, Broward County (Florida) Public Schools, leaders were able to use NSC data develop report cards with key performance indicators for postsecondary readiness for each high school. Strained by staffing limitations, Broward County Schools launched a PeerForward model to take action and make sure these key performance indicators were being met. Through the Broward Advisors for Continuing Education (BRACE) program, the district trained students to help their peers with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), scholarships, and college applications.

The event later transitioned to second panel that more closely focused on the different opportunities and challenges of working on college readiness, access, and success work in a K-12 school district. Panelists included:

  • Kimberly Hanauer, Founder & CEO, UnLockED
  • Rudy Ruiz, Partner, FourPoint Education Partners

Two key ideas reemerged as common themes across the panelists’ responses: effectively utilizing NSC data and facilitating district collaboration and partnerships. The panelists encouraged district leaders to use NSC data to identify student enrollment, persistence, and completion trends; create new resources and strategies for improvement; and measure progress toward postsecondary goals. Hanauer also suggested leveraging NSC data to invite collaboration not only across districts to community-based college access programs but also within districts to stakeholders who are often left out of conversations about students’ postsecondary success, such as academic teams and elementary and middle school staff.

“This is not just a high school issue. Every person in K-12 is scaffolding a student up. If you focus solely on high school, you’re cutting out two-thirds of your stakeholders,” said NCAN’s DeBaun.

The event concluded with one final question to the panelists asking “What are the first steps for a district looking to improve postsecondary outcomes for its students?” The panelists left the audience with the two final pieces of advice: 1) engage the superintendent and district leadership to secure district buy-in and support, and 2) articulate a clear vision that brings in all partners and stakeholders.

The To & Through Advising Challenge began during the 2018-19 academic year and charged 20 K-12 school districts and community-based organizations with the task of working together to strategically design and implement plans to change how they guide and support students toward postsecondary success. Grantees received financial assistance, advising and data coaching from field experts, and technical assistance from NCAN staff.

NCAN thanks everyone who was able to attend the event. Look for the recording soon in NCAN’s webinar archive.


Explore the full report to learn more about how school districts and partner organizations across the U.S. are using big ideas and National Student Clearinghouse data to improve their students' postsecondary outcomes.