WestEd offers a behind the scenes look at the development of California’s Cradle-to-Career data system

An Oct. 15 webinar hosted by WestEd offered an overview of what the state is trying to accomplish by developing a linked data system that tracks individuals through their schooling and into the workforce.

In 2019, the California State Legislature passed the California Cradle-to-Career Data System Act, which requires the development of a statewide data infrastructure to ensure that educational, workforce, financial aid and social service information is fully leveraged to address inequities and improve outcomes for all students over time. The act — passed as part of the 2019–20 state budget — detailed steps to be taken over the following 18 months to determine what the system will look like, how it will be governed, who will have access to data and how privacy and security will be handled.

Currently, students, school counselors, teachers and administrators must be able to navigate numerous data tracking systems to best guide children as they work their way through K-12 and higher education systems or entering a career. A unified system would streamline this process and provide practitioners as well as researchers the information needed to make decisions on everything from funding allocation to individual student intervention.

“We have all the different services, and all the different data systems, but we don’t have a wholistic picture of what’s happening to individuals and families moving through those systems,” said Statewide Chief Data Officer Joy Bonaguro. “Essentially, siloed data means a siloed understanding of what’s working and what still needs work.”

As of 2016, California was one of only eight states that either didn’t have or wasn’t building a “longitudinal” data system. By securely connecting data that schools, colleges, social service agencies, financial aid providers and employers already collect, state officials say that it will be easier to:

  • Identify the types of supports that help more students learn, stay in school, prepare for college, graduate and secure a job;
  • Provide information that teachers, parents, advisors, and students can use to identify opportunities and make decisions;
  • Help agencies plan for and improve educational, workforce, and health and human services programs; and
  • Support research on improving policies from birth through career.

Kathy Booth, project director of educational data and policy at WestEd, said the dashboards and query builder tools will allow users to view information on specific populations, including factors such as race/ethnicity, gender, foster status and homeless status.

The dashboards will provide information as infographics that allow users to see trends over time and the outcomes for different groups of students, such as by race, gender, socioeconomic status or other characteristics including disability or veteran status. By using the query builder, users can select variables of their choice to generate tables and charts, with the ability to get more specific information about student experiences.

Booth, who currently serves as the process facilitator for the development of the California Cradle to Career Data System, said the data system will also include information on factors that impact opportunities and outcomes, such as institutional characteristics, participation in social services and parents’ highest level of education.

These tools will better allow policymakers to make thoughtful choices around the ways in which they can address equity issues. With easy-to-find and up-to-date data, education officials will be better equipped to support students in reviewing whether they are taking the right high school courses to meet their goals, or ensuring that students and families understand their options for financial aid.

The system will also make it easier for students to provide critical information when applying to college, including electronic transcripts, if they have built skills through non-traditional venues such as internships or in part-time jobs, and whether they are eligible for social services. Additionally, it will support postsecondary institutions in efforts to provide stronger wraparound supports and credit for prior learning.