As a learning and improvement network, we constantly ask ourselves: “What can we do better or differently in order to improve student outcomes and close opportunity gaps?” This simple question has sparked a number of exciting innovations across the RISE Network over the past six years. One of these innovations is the postsecondary tracker tool.
A few years ago, building on the network’s strong foundation in Grade 9, we began thinking more deeply about our work together to promote college and career readiness, access, and success. As network partners, we want all of our students to not only graduate from high school, but also graduate with a meaningful and well-matched postsecondary plan. This seemingly straightforward goal is far more complicated in practice. In Connecticut, the student-to-counselor ratio is 466:1, which far exceeds the American School Counselor Association recommendation of 250:1. Imagine a counselor who has 100 seniors on their caseload — that’s 100 students with unique postsecondary goals. And each postsecondary pathway includes many necessary access milestones (e.g., the FAFSA for college-bound students, the ASVAB for military-bound students). Assuming that each of the counselor’s 100 seniors must complete 10 access milestones, that’s 1,000 different steps for the counselor to then track and support.
This is incredibly complex and high-stakes work!
Several years ago, counselors shared common pain points around tracking students’ postsecondary plans and progress relative to key access milestones. Counselors shared various personal practices to support their caseloads (e.g., sticky notes, Excel spreadsheets, a legal pad). In partnership with the RISE Data Team, several schools then piloted a secure Google Sheets-based tracking system to centralize information about students’ plans and progress. Each senior appeared as a row with columns detailing information about their postsecondary plans and statuses relative to various access milestones. We then heard another pain point: counselors needed to log into multiple data systems in order to gain an accurate picture of a students’ postsecondary readiness, including Naviance, PowerSchool, College Board, and other systems. The Data Team heard this feedback and worked to integrate data into the postsecondary tracker to create a one-stop source of information for counselors, providing information about students’ GPA, attendance, Naviance activity, etc.
Counselors were using the tracker in new and exciting ways, but the Google Sheets interface was clunky and imperfect (e.g., the spreadsheet was big and hard to navigate, if one user filtered the tool then it affected the experiences of other users). Our Data Team then set out to refine and, this time, build a new tool. Working in partnership with school counselors and the RISE Postsecondary Success Team, the Data Team developed a built-from-scratch secure web app specifically for school counselors. Our outcome goals remained the same:
- Outcomes: Support all students in developing and pursuing meaningful postsecondary plans.
- Information: Provide educators with real-time information about students’ plans and progress toward those plans.
- Action: Recognize that counselors are busy people who deserve actionable data and tools to support their daily work.
While our goals remained the same, the new tool is far more powerful and reflects input from dozens of counselors from around the state. Different drop-downs in the “tracker” portion of the tool allow counselors to understand students’ high school profiles and postsecondary plans, as well as their progress completing access milestones. Counselors can filter for specific lists, add or remove data fields from their view, change completion statuses for access milestones, and add notes, making this a one-stop hub for counselor workflow. The “summary” portion of the tool provides counselors with summary tables, allowing teams to track progress over time and analyze subgroup gaps necessary to surface equity concerns. Now, over 75 counselors and college and career coordinators are using the tool to support their personal practice and their work with students, and teams are using the tool in Grade 12 data meetings to identify students or groups of students for targeted support.
“The RISE postsecondary tracker has provided our team with unparalleled organization in supporting students to meet milestones and complete necessary tasks for reaching their post-secondary goals,” says Maloney College and Career Coordinator, Lauren Powers. “With the postsecondary tracker we are easily able to monitor student progress on such tasks as the FAFSA and requesting letters of recommendation. The tracker allows us to easily switch student goals, too, enabling us to stay informed on where each student is in their planning process regardless of what their pathway is for after graduation. We just love the new updates!”
The RISE Postsecondary Success Team and school counselors also implement various junior and senior surveys to understand how students are feeling about the postsecondary plans and where they might need additional support. Counselors recently achieved a 66% response rate on the fall senior survey, meaning that we collected data from over 2,100 seniors, and then added the data into the tracker, ensuring that counselors have the latest information at their fingertips.
So what’s next? We are excited to support counselors in using this new tool, and we are eager to collect feedback and to continue strengthening the platform. For example, this year, we’ve already acted on feedback to add information about first-generation status and continued education pathways for special education students. We are most excited to use this tool to support our mission of ensuring all students graduate with a plan and the skills and confidence to achieve college, career, and life success. Last year, 80% of seniors across the RISE Network identified a postsecondary plan. This is a tremendous accomplishment — students, families, and educators worked together to ensure that 2,388 students graduated with a plan. However, 20% of seniors — or 588 students — did not identify a plan. We have more work to do as a network to ensure all of our students graduate with a plan to achieve their goals for postsecondary success, and we’re excited to use the postsecondary tracker as one tool to support this goal.