Several presenters pointed out that the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century are not necessarily different from those needed in the past. While adaptation—such as taking advantage of advances in the cognitive and behavioral sciences—is important, it may also be important to recognize that even if ideas have been under discussion for a long time, the system may not yet have succeeded in implementing them. In particular, Pianta noted, possibilities for measuring aspects of education that may have been recognized as important but were not easily captured using large-scale standardized tests have opened up considerably.
It is important to recognize, though, Allensworth noted, that “we have ratcheted up expectations for students” significantly in the last 10 to 20 years. “Almost all schools now say they want their students to leave school college ready,” she explained, and this is a significant change from the way things were a generation ago. Tracking student grades is useful, she added, precisely because they capture skills that cannot be measured on tests but are important for both postsecondary schooling and work, such as the ability to get things done, to work in groups, and to solve problems. “There’s not a whole lot of evidence out there, she added, “that what you need to be career ready is so different from what you need to be college ready.”
Nevertheless, Dynarski observed, “one could read the data and say the K-12 system has just moved too slowly [so it is putting students into] the pipeline who aren’t ready for colleges that have adapted more quickly. The empirical evidence is pointing to the shortcomings not of colleges but of the K-12 system.”
What Might Be Missing?
Discussion highlighted a few issues that were not raised in the suggested indicators. One participant noted the relative lack of emphasis on contextual factors, particularly in comparison with the suggested preschool indicators. “Presumably the family and the community are just as important for school-age students as for kids from zero to age 5,” this person remarked. Another noted that “education is actually coproduced with parents,” but that parental inputs were not addressed by any of the indicators. The important role parents play is explicitly addressed in the early childhood context, this person observed, but “over time we assign more responsibility to the education provided by schools.” It would be possible, this person suggested, to develop a composite indicator using, for example, parents’ reading to children, helping with homework, or helping children prepare for college, to gauge involvement.
It is difficult to address equity issues with national indicators, Mark Dynarski noted, because national statistics may disguise significant variation. For example, steady growth in per pupil spending, on average, may result because affluent school districts are increasing their spending a considerable amount while poorer districts are not. It might be possible to construct an indicator of the variance in the states’ spending, perhaps as a share of their own budgets. But even this indicator would not capture other kinds of inequity, such as the distribution of up-to-date buildings, experienced teachers who are teaching the subject in which they were prepared, and other factors. Participants noted that measuring spending at the state level, as well as the national level, would add important information about equity and other issues.