GAO report: States challenged with collecting technical skill attainment, postsecondary placement data

States implementing new accountability measures under Perkins IV are facing the greatest challenges in collecting data on students’ technical skill attainment and postsecondary placement, according to a recently released Government Accountability Office report.

The report, Career and Technical Education: States Have Broad Flexibility in Implementing Perkins IV, aimed to assess states’ success and progress in implementing 11 new accountability measures at secondary and postsecondary institutions that may implement the measures in various ways. States attribute high cost of assessments and limited access to cross-agency data to their most challenging compliance issues.

Citing the states’ difficulties is of significance as CTE faces new, broader standards to collect data on students’ academic and skill attainment. As states phase in the measures, the Education Department said it plans to evaluate areas in which federal support may be directed. Further, under the new White House administration, all education programs vying for funding must live up to a new set of targets that require intensive data.

In order to identify states’ status in implementing the Perkins IV performance measures, GAO surveyed CTE state directors representing each state and the District of Colombia between January and April 2009.

Technical skill attainment
According to the report, secondary and postsecondary institutions both cited problems in implementing the technical skill attainment measure – one of three provisions in which the two education sectors share under Perkins IV.
Of the state directors surveyed, 38 reported that they face “great or very great challenges” in collecting data on student skill attainment. Similarly, 39 reported such challenges at the postsecondary level.

Among the greatest factors states face is cost. “Specifically, states reported that the cost of state-developed assessments and third-party technical assessments – such as those for industry certifications – are high and often too expensive for many districts, institutions or students,” the GAO report said. For instance, networking giant Cisco offers computer-based certification exams that range from $80 to $325, according to GAO. Generally, certifications may run as high as $1,400, GAO added.

Also, data-sharing agreements, or lack of, between assessment providers and government agencies make it difficult for education entities to retrieve data on students’ performance on assessments. Thus, states must rely on students to report their performance, which raises data-quality concerns.

Student placement
Another shared accountability performance measure among the secondary and postsecondary sectors is student placement. Among secondary schools, states have reported difficulties gathering data on CTE students after they leave the school system. Most challenging is tracking students that leave and find employment out of state. States largely rely on student survey data or state wage record data to report student placement, according to the GAO.

Both education sectors reported that linking secondary and postsecondary data systems to track students in the pipeline remains a problem. However, states such as Minnesota, have passed legislation to address the problem.

In regards to states’ efforts to phase in Perkins IV provisions, the GAO reported that states have “considerable flexibility” in how they implement performance measures. While the flexibility may allow states to determine the most efficient and effective means to deploy their strategies, the GAO cautions that the Education Department may face challenges to aggregate and compare data across states.

According to GAO, the Education Department is working with states to overcome difficulties in collecting and reporting student performance measures such as student skill attainment.

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