BILL CRAWFORD: LifeTracks could show how schools really perform

How good are your schools?
Don’t know?
You can go to MSReportCard.com and see your schools’ ranking for the 2011-2012 school year. Or, if you want to know how a particular grade in your school district did in a specific subject area for the 2012-2013 school year, you can go to a Clarion-Ledger site: http://www.clarionledger.com/interactive/article/20130822/NEWS01/130821039/Statewide-school-testing-results. (The Mississippi Department of Education web site blocks access to this data with a sign-in screen.)

So, you checked these sites out, looked at the results, and what do you really know?

Mostly how students scored on tests – math tests, science tests, reading/language arts tests, biology tests, algebra tests, history tests, English tests.

Schools use tests to measure student learning.

Well, sort of. These tests aren’t really comprehensive enough to measure all a student has learned. What the tests do is assess a small sample of what experts think a student should know. And, though norm referenced, the reliability variances for these tests are significant.

What these tests and school rankings don’t tell you…can’t tell you…is how good your school does in preparing children for real life.

For example, how many of your schools’ students graduate and go to college? How do they do in college? How many complete college with a certificate, AA/AS degree, BA/BS degree, or graduate degree? For those who complete high school and/or college, how many get a job? How many get a good job? How many have successful careers as reflected by increasing income over time?

For my part, I’d rather know how a school’s students do after graduation than how well those students tested on any given day. Same goes for community colleges and universities, too. How well do their graduates do?
Here’s the kicker. All this information is available!

Yep, Mississippi LifeTracks, the state longitudinal data system, pulls all this kind of data together from schools, community colleges, universities, unemployment insurance, prison records, and social service, health, mental health, and rehabilitation services programs.

A $7.5 million federal grant plus state funding made the LifeTracks program possible. Controlled by the State Workforce Investment Board, now chaired by Mississippi Manufacturing Association President Jay Moon, it was designed by Dr. Mimmo Parisi and his staff at the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center at Mississippi State University. The project was coordinated by John Gilbert at the Department of Education and Dr. Craig Orgeron at Department of Information Technology Services.

One of the grant’s goals is to provide a one-stop online portal that will give you access to LifeTracks information. For unknown reasons LifeTracks has yet to go live.

When it does, there’s no reason why real life student data for schools can’t be compiled and revealed.

BILL CRAWFORD (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.