DC Public Schools Rolls Out Guide to Graduation, College, and Career

June 25, 2019

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation

Earlier this year, DC Public Schools announced the release of a new “Guide to Graduation, College, and Career.” The guide, which was sent to 8,400 freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, contained critical information about students’ high school graduation requirements and trajectories, offered advice for how to get and stay on track to graduate, and highlighted postsecondary institutions based on students’ academic transcripts. The effort places the District of Columbia as the latest large city to become more intentional about shaping students’ postsecondary outcomes.

The spring release was the first for the new guide, but going forward the resource will be mailed home to students in grades 9-11 in the fall and spring, while seniors will receive it just in the fall. The guide is also available through an online parent and student portal. Students and families can currently access this resource in English, Spanish, and Amharic, the district’s three most common languages, but DCPS says it will aim to expand these offerings for future releases.

Each release of the guide includes a packet individually customized for students. Each guide contains:

  • An introductory letter and instructions for how to use the data.
  • The student’s current high school transcript (unofficial).
  • The student’s progress toward the district’s high school graduation requirements, including natural-language descriptions of whether a student has completed requirements and, if not, whether or not they are on track to do so.
  • The student’s likelihood of admission at “a variety of area colleges and universities based on current GPA and test scores.”
  • Information on career opportunities in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia metro area.
  • Naturallanguage descriptions of whether the student is on track to graduate and recommended next steps for the student in three categories: high school graduation, postsecondary education, and career. Examples of action steps include:
    • Using Khan Academy to increase SAT scores.
    • Signing up for a DCPS-connected internship or summer job.
    • Participating in a college visit.
    • Scheduling an official academic conference with the student, parent/guardian/and school counselor.

According to a presentation from the district, the data that appear in the guide are individualized based on a student’s transcript, assessment scores, and postsecondary survey information.

The college options page in the guide is especially robust. The district used data from Naviance and the National Student Clearinghouse to examine institutions from Pennsylvania to North Carolina where DCPS students most often applied and, critically, completed. The guide then maps these institutions and indicates whether, based on the student’s data, it would be a likely match or reach school.

The guide explicitly lays out the criteria the district thinks students should to make “smart college choices,” namely an institution’s graduation rate, the amount of financial aid it provides (and the unmet need it leaves students with), SAT/ACT score and GPA baselines, and college fit. What’s especially important here for students is that each of these criteria is linked to a related resource. For example, the financial aid and unmet need criterion links students to a scholarship search newsletter. The page also includes information on the community college to four-year institution pipeline.

Similarly, the career options page provides a lot of valuable information to students. Based on the student’s top three career inventory responses, the report displays, by educational attainment level, sample jobs, hourly wages, median incomes, postsecondary programs to consider (with links!), and degrees and certificates to consider. This page really makes the case to students that educational attainment is correlated with earnings, but it also shows students’ myriad pathways based on their aspirations.

The Washington Post noted that DCPS joins Chicago Public Schools and California’s Long Beach Unified and Orange County in providing these reports to students. (Among probably others; please let me know if your district does something similar.) DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said in The Washington Post“We are being intentional and bold about how we support our high school students. We want every student to have at their fingertips where they are, how they are doing, and where they still need to go.”  The same Post article highlights students whose knowledge has already improved as a result of the guide.

This resource is powered by Spotlight Education, a contractor that threads districts’ disparate data source into one guide.

In general, this effort from DCPS is an encouraging exemplar of a few different best practices. First, harnessing the power of data to inform students and families and provide them with natural-language recommendations across a number of different pathways. Second, it provides these data both early and continuously in a student’s high school career, giving the student plenty of time to follow the suggestions and improve their college and career trajectory. Third, it buys into the idea that K-12 systems can and should take ownership of students’ postsecondary outcomes. All in all, the effort is one worth watching, both here in the nation’s capital and anywhere else a similar approach takes root, to see what the impact is on outcomes like high school graduation, postsecondary enrollment, persistence and completion, and career outcomes.

(Photo by Juan Ramos on Unsplash)


Tweet: Dynamic Duo Helps Detroit Students Get Degrees: https://ctt.ac/rz405+ via @collegeaccess

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