June 16, 2000

Data-Sharing Agreements Strengthen Instruction a New Approach to Accountability

El Cajon — Teaching and learning will improve. That's the goal of a unique set of agreements initiated by the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District that will gradually involve all other levels of education. The first agreement to share information, monitor student performance and document student progress in specific courses and majors was established between the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District and San Diego State University in 1997. The Grossmont Union High School District signed their agreement with the college district in March 2000. Agreements are also now in place between SDSU and all of the region's other community colleges.

Sharing student information gives educators a way to assess and evaluate instruction and offers a new approach to accountability that includes both student preparation and pro-gress. Instructors at each educational level gain a new data-driven process to exchange ideas on instruction. Where warranted, they can alter curriculum to improve student success based on the data received.

"Before our pilot agreement with SDSU was signed in 1997, we had anecdotal information about our student's preparation level after they transferred to the university, but limited hard data," said GCCCD Chancellor Omero Suarez, a leader in establishing the partnership. "The agreement with SDSU grew out of mutual concern for student preparation and performance in upper division courses.

"Information sharing is the first step in measuring, analyzing and then adjusting curriculum, if needed, to improve instruction," said Suarez. "The data sharing agreements give us the foundation to provide a more seamless education for all students."

Such cooperative research gives educators the chance to jointly monitor and work to improve student outcomes. Detailed procedures have been established to completely protect student privacy.

Information gathered from SDSU has already produce modifications in some courses by Economics faculty at Grossmont College. Economics Professor Larry Smith used data from the last five years to look at SDSU courses taken by transfer students from Grossmont's Economics department. Smith analyzed information on 125 students and evaluated enrollment patterns and grades.

"We discovered that many of the students were taking Money and Banking at SDSU," Smith said. "We always covered the monetary system in our general economics course but, with the data, we adjusted curriculum to emphasize the Federal Reserve and monetary issues. Through our information sharing with SDSU, we simply made some adjustments that strengthen the curriculum and give students a stronger foundation for success."

Over the next two years, Smith and his colleagues at Grossmont and SDSU will continue to track the progress of current students taking Grossmont's general economics course. The information on these students will give educators a tool to evaluate the effectiveness of this curriculum change and whether or not students were better prepared for coursework at SDSU.

In the 1997 pilot project, Grossmont-Cuyamaca district and SDSU worked together to establish a process for sharing student information. A framework was developed to exchange data between different computer systems and to work with different sets of data.

Developing safeguards to protect students' privacy was crucial. Individual Social Security numbers are encrypted to maintain confidentiality and no information can be traced back to individual students.

The success of the pilot project led to exploration of an agreement with Grossmont Union High School District. Further expansion is planned to include other universities and all regional high school districts. The project is expected to become a model for other districts around the state.

"Sharing information provides a clearer understanding of how prepared our students are at each educational step," said Dr. Brad Phillips, director of the college district's Office of Institutional Research and Planning. "Our partnership with other districts is a giant step toward better communication between educational systems.

"We have a process for high school and college faculties to exchange ideas. We're developing faculty councils in math, English and sciences. They will meet regularly to discuss and use the information," Phillips said. "Our bottom line is that students are prepared to succeed as they move to and from each education level."

Sharing information between high schools, community colleges and four-year universities provides:

A more complete picture of future educational needs in the region

Measurement of the preparation level of high school students and community college transfer based on their performance in specific courses, majors and departments at the each educational level

An accurate accounting of majors

An accurate count of transfer students--30 percent of transfer students attend more than one community college

The results of placement tests so that student assessment can be improved

High school and community college faculties in math and English/language arts will be reviewing the first data collected under this spring's agreement. They will be looking at high school student course-taking patterns, success rates, and retention and transfer trends at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges. Five years of data and over one million records are now being reviewed.

Another element in the effort is to add the K-8 system. Phillips said sharing information between East County's elementary school districts and Grossmont Union High School District will happen down the road. As other high school districts in the region participate so will their K-8 feeder schools. Knowing the preparation levels of students entering high school will help in developing common standards in math and English.

Agreements are also in the works with the University of California, San Diego, California State University, San Marcos and Imperial Valley College. Expansion of the data sharing agreements is currently funded through grants from the Chancellor's Office of the California Community Colleges. The future goal is to establish a statewide cost-effective system of data sharing that will improve public education and meet government accountability mandates.

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