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At the joint District 65 and 202 School Board meeting on Oct. 23, Peter Godard, School District 65 Chief Officer of Research, Accountability, & Data, and Carrie Levy, School District 202 Director of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment, reported on the status of the School Districts’ partnership with Northwestern University to identify predictors of college success.

In the Superintendents’ Joint Achievement Report, Mr. Godard and Dr. Levy said, “college success” would be defined “as enrollment in a post-secondary institution [defined to include both two- and four-year colleges] for five consecutive semesters.”

He added, “Just like data in education in general, we have to be careful about how we conceptualize these on track indicators, particularly when it comes to historically marginalized, particularly Black and Hispanic students.

“What we intend to do next with Northwestern University, with that caveat in mind about use, is to use many of the same data points that we have used here to go beyond an exploratory analysis [done in the Superintendent’s Joint Achievement Report discussed in the accompanying article] and do more predictive modeling using the knowledge and skills and techniques of researchers we have partnered with.”

Mr. Godard said they are mapping out a “very specific project plan for creating on-track indicators using predictive analyses that would allow us to more concretely state what are the characteristics of a student in 10th grade, ninth grade, eighth grade, and seventh grade that are likely to predict success in college. And those criteria are likely to be different from what we historically use just in terms of test scores. It allows us to have a potentially more robust set of indicators to help identify students who may need additional supports to be successful.”

He added that they have been working on “a preliminary project plan that we’re in final review stages on. Once we have a data sharing agreement about how the analyses will be conducted, we can exchange the data with Northwestern University, and they can get started on the research. That should happen within the next month or so.”

Mr. Goddard added that the School Districts have been working with Northwestern University more generally on how NU researchers “could be helpful to us in pursuing our goals” around equity.

Board member Gretchen Livingston focused on the comment that the indicators will help in identifying students who need additional supports to be successful. She said it was important to communicate to the community “how are we using this” data.

Dr. Levy said, “The goal of this is to have ultimately a model that says  at grades 12, 11, 10, 9, and all the way down, there are certain variables that have been identified that say whether our students are on track or not, for not just post-secondary enrollment or success or a variety of measures – however we define it – so that we have information that we can give to our administrators and personnel and say, “These students we know are not meeting X, Y, and Z, so here’s some information. They need support.”

Ms. Livingston said, “There’s almost a parallel path our Districts need to be following and that relates to how we communicate this and how we interweave these two things so that it becomes not just an intellectual exercise but the tool to move where our students are going.”

Mr. Godard agreed, saying, “We want a useful tool that can be used by practioners as they work with students.”

Board members asked if administrators could add other variables to the mix, to gauge whether they had an impact on preparing students for college success. The variables mentioned include family engagement, social and emotional skills, disciplinary referrals, college exposure or awareness at an early age, and the geographic area a student resided in.

District 65 Board member Candance Chow asked if administrators could identify the types of college programs that students were taking, particularly whether females were taking STEM courses. 

District 65 Board member Sergio Fernandez asked if the Districts could identify characteristics that predict success in various careers.

Mr. Godard said, “Our intent is to get started on the analysis before the end of this calendar year and ideally to get a sophisticated but preliminary analysis done within the school year, with intent to finalize it at the beginning of the next year.

In a series of editorials, the RoundTable has opined that defining college readiness or success as enrolling in five consecutive semesters in any post-secondary institution sets low expectations for students. We are concerned about this because the proposed definition is linked to academic skills that we think are lower than those needed to enroll in and graduate from four-year colleges, such as Northern Illinois, Northeastern Illinois University, DePaul University, and University of Illinois at Chicago. See e.g., “We urge the District 202 School Board to Raise Expectations for College Readiness” (posted online, April 19, 2017), and “A Look at ETHS’s Proposed Model to Define ‘College Readiness,’” (posted online April 5, 2017).