Cradle to Career Data System Moves Closer to Reality

Published On: April 13, 2021

The architects of the first phase of the California Cradle-to-Career Data System have submitted the second of three reports outlining plans to connect data across various segments of education to benefit students and to inform educators and legislators in their policy and decision-making.

While California’s education system includes early education, K-12, community colleges and universities, data collected on students are not currently linked. The 2019 California Cradle-to-Career Data System Act set out requirements for the development of the statewide data infrastructure to address disparities and improve student outcomes by leveraging educational, workforce, financial aid and social service data.

Part of the 2019-2020 budget package, the system is supported with $10 million in one-time funds for workgroup planning and initial system development, which is being facilitated by WestEd, a nonprofit in San Francisco.

In December of last year, the workgroup assembled by WestEd recommended three projects: an integrated data system linking records from various state agencies, expansion of CaliforniaColleges.edu to school districts throughout the state, and an upgrade to eTranscript California to include specific skills students acquired through nontraditional learning.

Kathy Booth, WestEd’s project director for educational data and policy, said the pandemic’s devastating effects on the educational system and on students make development and implementation of an integrated system even more critical as educators try to track student outcomes and their need for social supports. She said the planning team, consisting of public and private entities, has put hundreds of hours of work into the project.

“We had more than 200 people in this process working through the minutia,” she said. “All the data is there; it just needs to be linked and made public. All of our partners have been in total agreement. The model is all ready to go. We just need the legislature to say yes.”

With existing data systems currently, students may encounter confusing college application and financial application processes, as well as delays in admissions or unexpected rejections because of inaccurate or inconsistent data. In addition, education leaders and lawmakers cannot easily access student outcome information or other data that could guide policy and close equity gaps.

The plan envisions a system with one-stop shopping for students to select and apply to California public colleges and apply for financial aid, streamlined admissions processing and placement. Students also will be able to opt in to see if they are eligible for state food and medical care services, as well as share documentation on skills or certifications they have acquired, along with their course records.

Educators will be able to track the status of their students’ college and financial aid applications so they can support them during the process. Lawmakers, researchers and advocates will have access to information on the long-term outcomes of students so they can figure out how to spend state funds to address inequities through education, workforce training and social services.

In its March 26 report, the Legislative Analyst’s Office agreed with the administration that an integrated data system is needed and made several recommendations it says are necessary to ensure its success. They include a requirement to use the state Department of Technology’s Project Approval Lifecycle (PAL) process to plan, verify and validate the system. PAL was developed to reduce the likelihood of massive tech failures, which have plagued many of the state’s data systems over the past several years.

Booth said that the Department of Technology has been very involved in the planning efforts and will recommend the appropriate procurement process once the system is under way. She also emphasized that the planning team has recommended a proof-of-concept pilot project – a teacher retention dashboard to help state policymakers better understand and address teacher shortages, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. In addition to the pilot, a five-year implementation process is estimated to cost between $15 million and $20 million annually.

WestEd’s final report is expected June 30.

About the Author: Dorsey Griffith

Dorsey Griffith is a seasoned, strategic communications professional and veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the private and public sectors. She spent more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter focused on health and medicine with additional experience covering education, government and regional affairs.