be used to guide student- and school-level interventions; the other, by Russell Rumberger, with the University of California at Santa Barbara, on how state data systems can be used to monitor students and institutions and to modify the accountability system to help focus attention on the problem. The chapter begins with a review of the major issues that comprehensive data systems can help to inform. We then explore how the data can be used at the various government levels to improve policy and practice.

USING DATA TO ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING OF THE PROBLEM

There are four fundamental issues that more comprehensive education data systems can address. First, it is important to have useful and accurate data to compute dropout, graduation, and completion statistics, so the nature of the problem can be clearly documented. Developing comprehensive data systems that meet high-quality standards is a critical step toward improving the accuracy of data used to estimate the rates. It is also important to adopt consistent conventions in calculating the rates, so that the reported rates are meaningful, well understood, and comparable across jurisdictions and over time, and, when differences are evident, that the sources of these differences are explained. These issues have been addressed throughout this report.

Second, it is important to understand the factors that cause students to drop out. This includes individual-level factors associated with students themselves, such as their attitudes, behaviors, health, school performance, and prior experiences as well as contextual factors found in students’ families, schools, and communities. Comprehensive data systems that incorporate these factors can be useful both for conducting local research to further explore the relationships between these variables and dropping out and for making use of research findings to identify at-risk students. These issues were covered in Chapter 5. The remaining two issues are discussed below.

Documenting the Outcomes Associated with Dropping Out

A third area that comprehensive data systems can help address is to further understand what happens to students when they drop out and the problems they face. As noted in Chapter 2, it is well documented that students who drop out have lower earnings, higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of crime and incarceration, higher rates of public assistance, and poorer health than high school graduates, but this information is known primarily through national survey data collected by federal agencies, such as the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comprehensive data systems can help track dropouts after they leave high school and transition into further education and training, the labor market, and adult life and provide this information for students in a given state or school district. Although following dropouts after



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