A White Paper from SunGard Public Sector
As of August, 2009, 39 states had formed committees or initiatives to address joint P-12 and higher education issues to improve lifelong student achievement. These are most commonly referred to as P-20 (or P-16) educational initiatives and are generally focused on a common goal set. The most prevalent goals are:
- Aligning standards and assessments across the P-20 education continuum
- Improving upon or creating p-20 longitudinal data systems
- Helping to successfully transition students from P-12 to higher education
All three of these goals are inextricably linked through the thoughtful development and long-term use of shared P-20 longitudinal data systems by administrators, educators, students and parents.
Ideally, these systems would build on the foundation that exists today within most P-12 school districts and at higher educational institutions where student information systems (or SIS) and, in some cases, instructional management systems are in place. Existing SIS deployments generally provide all stakeholders with the ability to access, track and manage summary and detail student information, such as demographics, transcripts, attendance, standardized assessments and appointment scheduling. Instructional management systems are also typically used to support one school district or institution and are used:
- To help align course content to state or other standards
- For mapping curriculum using core or teacher-centered curricula
- To track assessment data in relation to standards
- For accessing student profile information
Both types of systems would be more effective if they were able to bridge the gap horizontally across levels of education and vertically between school districts, higher education institutions and across states.
The ability to use longitudinal data systems to address this wider continuum would allow curriculum, assessments and other student-specific data that impacts learning success to follow the student through the P-20 continuum. Educators and students must then be able to access it to plan a learning path and identify and address skills gaps and other needs to best meet each student’s lifelong learning goals.
Much progress has been made toward allowing schools to exchange their SIS data through SIF (Schools Interoperability Framework) compliance and communicate student achievement as measured within schools. However, there remains a gap between what data is collected and shared between P-12 school districts and between P-12 and higher education institutions. How that data can be interpreted and put to use by students and educators to help students achieve their educational goals is a wide gulf. A gulf that, so far, is widening due to many factors, including growth in student and educator populations within serving institutions, increased student mobility between districts and states, and the demand for more specialized education throughout life to prepare students for higher education and the workforce.
There are more students with a broader spectrum of educational goals taking more varied paths through the educational system, and this is putting a strain on a U.S. system that simply does not have the data and analysis systems in place designed to handle the complexity. The wide variety of existing school district and individual school-centered systems in place across levels of education and geography are not built on any common data or system architecture. Such standards would allow data to be effectively transferred and used across the P-20 continuum or across state boundaries.
P-20 Longitudinal Data Systems can bridge these gaps and legislators can help by mandating their development and use. Equally important, legislators must support state and national standards for alignment of curriculum and assessments, the capture and use of common student data, and system architecture that will make interoperability and data sharing possible and effective. Ultimately it is the adoption of such standards that will enable the achievement of many of the stated future goals of US education policy, such as improved coordination across the P-20 educational experience, greater support for student mobility in the educational process, and improved measurement, reporting and transparency in learning outcomes. These actions are keys to putting the U.S. educational system on a long-term path to continuous improvement in student achievement and individual lifelong learning success.