August 15, 2003

Thriving Cal-PASS education project expands statewide

Data-sharing agreements embraced by growing number of grade schools, high schools, community colleges and universities

EL CAJON – Heralded by a local lawmaker active on the education forefront as a powerful new tool for improving classroom instruction, Cal-PASS, a grass-roots information-sharing initiative, is well on its way to expanding statewide, it was announced at a Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District news conference.

Funded through a grant from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, Cal-PASS (California Partnership for Achieving Student Success) provides participating schools new access to student data. From elementary school to university, teachers finally have the means to help students be better prepared.

As is the case with the best ideas, the concept behind Cal-PASS is simple and straightforward: to help students successfully advance in their education, instructors need data to track performance. Then, they need to share the information to act on their findings.

“The conversations that arise from the data sharing are what’s crucial,” said La Mesa-Spring Valley School District Superintendent Brian Marshall, one of several educators and administrators from across the state praising Cal-PASS at the news conference. “As educators, we’ve wanted this kind of information for over 15 years. When we’re able to review true data, we’re given the tools to really integrate curriculum and identify its strengths and weaknesses.”

State Sen. Dede Alpert, D-39th, who chairs a legislative committee working toward implementing the state’s master plan for K-16 education, also spoke glowingly for the project developed by the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District under the direction of Chancellor Omero Suarez and Dr. Brad Phillips, senior director of Institutional Research, Planning and Academic Services.

“This is a huge part of the answer to how to truly improve education,” Alpert said about Cal-PASS, which began as a pilot program in 1998 between GCCCD and San Diego State University. After initially expanding regionwide to involve nine community colleges, six high-school districts, three public universities, and two private universities, Cal-PASS has proceeded to grow well beyond the reaches of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association (SDICCCA).

The data collected from Cal-PASS participants includes basic student information, such as courses, grades, and outcomes. What can be learned from these simple facts and their potential for improving instruction has educators clamoring for data and brainstorming with colleagues on ways to enhance student preparation.

Their goal is to find out what students are learning and help them prepare for that next rung up the educational ladder – something that couldn’t be accomplished on a meaningful level in the past because of the lack of hard data. The Cal-PASS system makes it possible to share data without compromising students’ privacy rights, a logistical hurdle that needed to be cleared before Cal-PASS could be put into use.

“Good information and its integration into teacher-to-teacher discussions are at the heart of Cal-PASS,” Chancellor Suarez said Monday. “Good, usable information, wanted and needed by teachers, is now available... Cal-PASS addresses the desire of all teachers to know what happens to their students and, knowing this, how to positively impact the next students.”

Thanks to the three-year, $1.5 million expansion grant approved in 2002 by the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, new data-sharing consortia have been formed in Long Beach and Riverside/San Bernardino, with more groups pending. About one-fourth of all community colleges in California are part of a consortium and more are signing on, as word spreads about the remarkable educational breakthrough that Cal-PASS represents.

In a nutshell, here’s how Cal-PASS works: Each participating institution signs an agreement to provide data once a year and appoints a representative to gather and access data. A database administrator oversees the operation of a $300,000 data server based at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office in Sacramento that stores the millions of records provided by each Cal-PASS-member institution.

The information can then be analyzed by researchers, who in turn, can offer instructors and administrators data-based information relating to a variety of educational issues.

Phillips, who has been tapped as the statewide project leader, said the project’s benefits go beyond simply collecting and disseminating data.

“Our experience has shown that it is truly bringing institutions together in the form of regional consortiums that seek to improve student success by reducing barriers and improving seamlessness between our institutions,” he said.

The East County Cal-PASS consortium, for example, has formed joint councils involving the K-8 campuses, high schools, community colleges and SDSU that meet regularly to discuss the subject areas of math, English, career/technical education, counseling and English as a Second Language.

Chancellor Suarez, who envisions data sharing to eventually develop nationally, said his current goal for Cal-PASS is for it to be adopted statewide. Within the three years of grant funding, Phillips said he hopes to have at least 75 percent of all community colleges in the state participating, in addition to most universities and K-12 schools.

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