Partnership helps schools & communities increase students' success - AZEdNews
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Partnership helps schools & communities increase students’ success


Dr. Joe O’Reilly, Director Of ASU Helios Decision Center For Educational Excellence, Shows A Screen Of Factors That Impact High School Graduation During A Presentation On Friday, June 18, 2021 At The ASU Helios Decision Center For Educational Excellence. Photo By Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Arizona State University and Helios Education Foundation announced a five-year extension of a partnership that helps Arizona schools and communities work together to increase students’ success from cradle to career.

The ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence at the Helios Education Foundation campus in Phoenix analyzes data and presents it in an interactive visual format that school and community leaders can use to improve students’ academic performance, increase equity in education, and promote greater post-secondary degree attainment.

Partnership helps schools & communities increase students' success VInce-Roig-300
Vince Roig

“This partnership allows our state to take an in-depth look at educational data in order to understand how our students are currently performing as well as to identify strategies for us to increase student performance and ultimately encourage more students to pursue and complete a post-secondary education,” said Vince Roig, founding chairman of Helios Education Foundation.

Recently, school districts said they did not have much information on how their high school graduates were doing in college, so the center provided them with an analysis of their high school graduation and FAFSA completion rates compared to other schools statewide, their graduates’ enrollment in post-secondary education, their graduates’ high school to college transition and grades in college courses, as well as post-secondary degree and certificate completion rates.

“We’re giving them a tool to talk with their community about high school graduation and college going and understanding how the community can play a role,” said Dr. Joe O’Reilly, director of ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence.

When the analysis was shared with the school districts that were part of the pilot program, “one superintendent looked at the majors and said ‘hey, I don’t think our courses are addressing our kids’ interests, and we need to think about what we’re offering the students in high school if this is what they want to do when they leave high school,’” Dr. O’Reilly said.

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Another school district saw that their students were not getting an A, B, or C in their college math classes and asked, “what are we not doing to prepare students going to university that they’re getting Cs, Ds and withdrawing from math,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

In addition, Arizona Rural Schools Association said they have been needing this information for a long time, but did not have the capacity to look at it, Dr. O’Reilly said.

“That’s the power of these reports that we’ll be giving out to these (pilot) districts later this fall,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

How it’s meeting that goal

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Michael Crow

Helios Education Foundation is “laser focused on closing the education achievement gap and increasing Arizona’s post-secondary degree attainment and this partnership is going to help us do just that,” said Paul Luna, president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.

The ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence is funded by a $6.5 million grant from Helios. When the Decision Center partnership between ASU and Helios was announced in 2018, the center was funded by a $2.5 million grant from Helios.

When people can visually see the data tying economic outcomes to educational attainment, they can come to a consensus about what to do to be more competitive, said Dr. Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University.

The only way to be competitive, have continued social and economic progress going forward and “attain all the dreams that we have in the American Dream is to educate more people to a higher level, which means everyone has to graduate from high school,” Dr. Crow said. “We live in a state where almost 25% don’t depending on how you count it.”

Partnership helps schools & communities increase students' success Paul-Luna-300
Paul Luna

Many who graduate high school are “not ready to compete in an economy where the rate of technological change means that you will change your career as many as three to four times in your lifetime going forward and you will change your job as many as 12 times,” Dr. Crow said. “That never used to be the case.”

That is why Arizona’s goal to increase the number of adults with post-secondary degrees to 60% by 2030 is so critically important, but right now just 46% of Arizonans have degrees, Luna said.

“This partnership will help us find the most impactful ways to reach that goal and eliminate the equity and achievement gaps that we have today for all students,” Luna said. “This work is already providing innovative and powerful solutions that serve our student population and our education community today.”

How it works

Using the Decision Center’s high school module, school and community leaders look at the data in their community to determine what research-based strategies they want to use and what strengths they have as a community to meet a goal they set to increase high school graduation and college degree attainment over a specific time frame.

Then they see how that impacts students’ lifetime earnings and the taxes they generate, Dr. O’Reilly said. In addition, the leaders can see how they compare with schools with similar demographics or populations.

For example, Miami, Arizona school and community leaders can see a breakdown of the educational attainment of adults in their community – less than high school, high school, some college or an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree – and the income of each of those groups.

Leaders also can see the number of high school students in the community, the ethnic composition, and the incomes of households.

“In this case you can see a lot of households – over 60% – are making $40,000 or less,” Dr. O’Reilly said. “That’s a challenge for going to college, but it’s also an opportunity because there are some financial aid sources available for ASU’s Obama scholarship that if you’re under a certain amount and you have the ability all of your costs of college will be paid for.”

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Dr. Joe O’Reilly, director of ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence, shows a screen of factors that impact high school graduation during a presentation on Friday, June 18, 2021 at the ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

A graph shows how the population has decreased in Miami from 2010 to 2018 and another shows the change in educational attainment of adults in the community from 1990 to 2018.

“Achieving 60% is going to be difficult in a community where less than 15% of the people have a degree, but there are opportunities in the people who have some college and focusing on high school graduates and their aspirations for the future,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

The next screen shows the industries and fields in the community with career opportunities that students see, “so what do you do to make them think about a bigger world,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

The next screen focused on other community factors that affect education that are beyond the school’s control but can impact children’s health such as air pollution, lead paint, exposure to violence, households with children in poverty, births to unmarried teens, grandparents raising children, household movement in the area, adults without health insurance, and households using food stamps.  

Another screen looks at similar schools with similar poverty levels and their college going rate, FAFSA completion rate, high school graduation rate, and college-going rate and another chart looks factors that impact graduation rates such as chronic absenteeism, suspensions, and proficiency on state assessments.

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“If they set a goal of 20% more students going to college, that’s eight students. The impact over their lifetime is $2.5 million in increased earnings by those students and $829,000 more in taxes that are generated,” Dr. O’Reilly said.  

The center is also looking at whether students who take part in pathways in high school for post-secondary readiness – Advanced Placement, dual enrollment and career and technical education –  are more likely to go to college.

“What we are seeing is that there’s a lot of students with ability that don’t get opportunity. Especially the lower-income students are not going to university even though they seem to be prepared,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

Letting students know they’re ready for university

Arizona has an automatic admission policy, which means students who meet the Arizona Board of Regents requirements will automatically be accepted at the universities; however, they have to apply.

“A lot of students who may be able to go to university and compete think well, maybe I can’t pay for it, maybe I’m not a university kind of person so they never apply, and they don’t get in even though they have the ability,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

The Arizona Department of Education has data on student performance statewide that can be used to identify which students meet university entry requirements.

“One of the things we’re doing this fall is to send letters to rising seniors saying you meet all the ABOR requirements up until those you have to take in your senior year, and you are accepted into ASU conditional on the successful completion of your senior year and you’re in and we’re going to give you a financial aid package so the application would not be a barrier,” Dr. O’Reilly said. “They just have to fill out some paperwork to accept.”

“It makes a whole lot of sense to reach out to those students directly, individually and let them know that you are eligible for admission to ASU or to any of the other universities, so that we make sure that they are completely aware of all the opportunities they have before them,” said Vince Yanez, senior vice president for Arizona community engagement at Helios Education Foundation.

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Dr. Joe O’Reilly, director of ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence, shows a screen of research-based interventions schools and community leaders may take to increase college going. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Filling out a college application can be intimidating and the cost of applying can be barriers to some students, Dr. O’Reilly said.

“By telling them you’re accepted and you’re going to be able to come to ASU, and eventually to other universities, we think will make a difference,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

If these letters increase enrollment rates, then the Arizona Board of Regents has said it would be interested in doing this on a wider scale, Dr. O’Reilly said.

Upcoming cradle to career research releases

In the next five years, the center will release results of research that focuses on how to reach its goal of more first-generation, low-income, and underserved students achieving a post-secondary education.

“The first is a high school outcomes module that focuses on the graduation and college going of a community,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

“We’re working now on one that looks at the education system and workforce and examines what are the needs of the workforce, skills and degrees and what are we producing,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

That report should be released by the end of this year with information on industry needs, college completion, degrees and certificates, and how K-12 schools are aligning with higher education.

At the end of 2022, a module on middle and high school course work and outcomes will be released that examines course work patterns and availability, the middle to high school transition, state assessment data, attendance, teacher quality, opportunity youth and graduation and dropout rates.

“We’re looking at course taking over time from middle school through high school and into college and saying how are students doing,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

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Dr. Joe O’Reilly, director of ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence, shares research the center is working on that will be released in the next few years. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

The center’s research found that lower-income, high-ability students in seventh- and eighth grade are dropping out of the higher levels of math in high school and they’re not getting to university.

“They’re more likely to go to a community college, yet they have the very high ability in middle school, and the non free- and reduced-price lunch middle schoolers are going to college at much higher rates,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

It is a challenge for schools to figure out what’s happening and “how do we get those kids with ability the opportunity to go on to college and have a better life,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

The center’s K-8 outcomes module should be ready by the end of 2023, and will include kindergarten readiness, third-grade literacy and eighth-grade math, state assessment data from all other grades, attendance, and teacher quality.

In 2025, an early childhood education outcomes module will be released that includes analyses of quality, access, kindergarten readiness, literacy diagnostics and look at how students performed on third-grade literacy assessments.

In addition, there are 10 smaller modules the center is planning on developing, Dr. O’Reilly said.

“We can bring the information together. We can do some research. But the change happens in schools and by school leaders and that requires the community to support,” Dr. O’Reilly said.

“We really want to work with the stakeholders in education to figure out how do we have much better outcomes for students. That’s our goal,” Dr. O’Reilly said.