Education Data

9 Tricky Education Terms You Should Understand

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Learning standards. Kindergarten readiness. Achievement gap. Personalized learning. Universal preschool. Can you define the terms buzzing around the education world? Jargon can be overwhelming—even for the experts. And language can be further complicated by disagreements on (or misunderstandings of) what terms mean, politics, and different definitions that depend on context.

Whether you’re an educator or education expert, a parent or family member of a student, or a voter hoping to learn more about local schools, a clear understanding of education terms, and the issues surrounding them, can help in many ways.

As education experts ourselves, QIP employees encounter a lot of jargon, much of which has the potential to cause confusion. Here are a few tricky education terms we’ve seen lately, along with descriptions of what they mean—and don’t mean.

Education and Career Pathways: Maps for Learning and Job Success

Recent statistics show a mismatch between the skills secondary and postsecondary students are acquiring and the rapidly changing needs of industry. In June 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that U.S. job openings had increased to 6.6 million, while the number of unemployed people was down to 6.3 million. According to the 2017 ExcelinEd white paper Putting Career and Technical Education to Work for Students, “Many of these open positions offer middle- and higher-wage salaries, as well as opportunities for continued training and advancement by employers, but they go unfilled due to a lack of appropriately skilled workers who have completed aligned programs of study.” Pathways data—data that help students navigate through different points in their education and career trajectories—can help solve this problem. These data define not just the routes to success (i.e., to the desired destination), but also the milestones along the way.

It is clear from these reports that current students and education providers could use better alignments to the most promising opportunities in higher education and the workforce. At the macro level, we see gaps between what students are learning and what they need to learn to transition into the college programs of study and work positions that are available. At the micro level, a student’s skill gap in any area (e.g., proportional reasoning) becomes a roadblock for learning further skills that depend on that prerequisite understanding or ability (e.g., operations with fractions, word problems, and physical science applications). The lack of well-defined education pathways data—and the failure to use the information that is currently available—is limiting opportunities for students, employees, and employers.

Four kinds of education and career pathways

There are four kinds of pathways that serve different purposes:

  • Competency pathways define recommended sequences of learning. They show prerequisite and post-requisite relationships between competencies. Competencies can include skills, knowledge, dispositions, or practices.
  • Content pathways define sequences of learning resources or learning experiences.
  • Credential pathways define sequences of credentials that build an individual's qualifications. These pathways often include “stackable” credentials that can help a person qualify for a different and potentially higher-paying job, by adding qualifications to those he/she already has. (See also this explanation of stackable credentials from the U.S. Department of Labor.)
  • Career pathways define a series of structured and connected education programs and support services that enable students, often while working, to advance over time to better jobs with higher levels of education and training. (See also this explanation of career pathways from the Career Ladders Project and this definition from ExelinEd.)

Visualizing pathways as a map

Although the four kinds of pathways have different purposes, their structure looks the same. In each case, the information can be visualized as a map. Points of interest on the map, called milestones, can represent

  • a competency (e.g., a skill, piece of knowledge, disposition, or practice);
  • content (e.g., a learning resource or program);
  • a credential (e.g., a qualification or degree); or
  • a career opportunity (e.g., an internship or job).
 Figure        SEQ Figure \* ARABIC     1      . A pathways map has milestones (which are like points of interest on a street map) connected by paths (which are like road segments on a street map).

Figure 1. A pathways map has milestones (which are like points of interest on a street map) connected by paths (which are like road segments on a street map).

While these different types of milestones can all be points in a pathways map, the metadata for each will be different, depending on type. For instance, a credential milestone will have different metadata properties than a competency milestone.

A path is a connector between two milestones. Paths, similar to road segments on a street map, represent recommended ways someone can navigate from point A to point B. On a pathways map, a path shows how to get to a slightly more advanced milestone via its prerequisite milestone. Figure 1 shows the relationship between two milestones and a path.

  Figure 2. A pathways map can have multiple routes (which are also called routes on a street map). The route in blue represents one of many education/career possibilities in nursing.

Figure 2. A pathways map can have multiple routes (which are also called routes on a street map). The route in blue represents one of many education/career possibilities in nursing.

A pathways map can be formed by connecting many milestones and paths. People can then select routes based on interests and needs. A career pathways map in nursing, for instance, may have several possible routes. There could be an entry-point milestone of a high school diploma, with two paths leading from there, one to a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) qualification and another to an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to qualify as a Registered Nurse (RN). Another path could lead from the LPN to the RN. The LPN and RN could each have a path to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). All of this creates many possible routes and destinations (illustrated in figure 2). Additional routes could be created, thus expanding the map, by adding paths from the BSN to graduate degree qualifications for other positions in health care.

Note that, unlike a street map, a pathways map is unidirectional. While people commonly travel from point A to point B and then back to point A, they do not travel from a more advanced milestone to its prerequisite. Of course, people may need to relearn a prerequisite they either missed or forgot in order to advance; they may also decide to double back and change routes. But they will never begin at a master-level job and move from there to a basic internship in the same field, or start by learning differential equations before moving on to addition and subtraction.

More information about education and career pathways

QIP team members are working with teams from edtech initiatives (such as those mentioned in my recent EdSurge article on initiatives working on learner navigation) to help define standards for pathways data that will serve all levels of education, training, and careers. I will be facilitating a session on this topic at the upcoming National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) iFEST conference in Alexandria, Virginia, on August 27–29. See also my video Demystifying Pathways Data on YouTube for another look at education and career pathways.

Jim Goodell (@jgoodell2is Senior Analyst at QIP. He works on connections between education sciences, policy, practice, and personalized/optimized learning. He wrote Turning ‘Google Maps for Education’ From Metaphor to Reality for EdSurge. Learn more about Jim here.

What To Expect at the STATS-DC Education Data Conference

One of the most exciting conferences in the realm of education data is the NCES STATS-DC Data Conference. If your interests and work involve education statistics, this is a great opportunity for learning and networking. STATS-DC attracts approximately 800 to 900 attendees, and there are multiple simultaneous sessions.

STATS-DC in a nutshell

The annual STATS-DC conference is sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Education. “STATS-DC” is not an acronym, but a shortening of the word statistics, plus a mention of Washington, D.C., where the conference takes place. This year’s theme is “Visualizing the Future of Education through Data.” The 2018 conference will be held during three consecutive days in late July.

One important feature of STATS-DC is that U.S. Department of Education offices provide updates and training on federal policies and activities that affect data collection and reporting. Another highlight is presentations by state and local education agency personnel who work directly with data collection and reporting, as well as by experts from other organizations who share strategies and ideas involving education statistics. Finally, since the conference draws participants and presenters from diverse locations—including a variety of specialists in education and data—it offers great networking opportunities.

Twelve kinds of presentation topics

Many presentations occur simultaneously at STATS-DC—typically 10 presentations at once in 10 rooms. To decide which you are interested in attending, refer to the 2018 Agenda at a Glance, available on the IES conference web page (also provided on paper in the conference registration packet). The Agenda at a Glance color-codes presentations by topic. There are 12 topics, and each presentation is assigned to one of them, based on its content:

  • CCD: The Common Core of Data is a national database that contains information collected from public elementary and secondary schools.
  • Data Collection: Federal, state, and local agencies collect data about education—a large logistical operation.
  • Data Linking Beyond K-12: Linking data from K-12 to early learning, higher education, and workforce provides information used to support students.
  • Data Management: Collecting, storing, and using data requires governance, oversight, and procedures.
  • Data Privacy: When personal information is collected, privacy and security concerns are paramount.
  • Data Quality: It is important that data are as accurate and precise as possible.
  • Data Standards: The education data community is forming common standards, or understandings, about what terms mean and how they are used.
  • Data Use (Analytical): Analysts use data for analyses such as time series, for academic research, and in many other ways.
  • Data Use (Instructional): Educators use data to improve teaching and learning.
  • Fiscal Data: Data on finances can help agencies, districts, and schools plan budgets and use resources efficiently.
  • SLDS: The Statewide Longitudinal Data System Grant Program provides grants and resources for the development and expansion of student-level state data systems.
  • Other: Some presentations may not fall into any of the above categories.

To decide which presentations you would like to attend, you may also wish to read abstracts. Abstracts offer more detailed information about each presentation than is available in the Agenda at a Glance and are available on the Agenda tab of the NCES STATS-DC web page. The Agenda will not be included on paper in the registration packet. However, it is posted online in both HTML and PDF formats, and complimentary Wi-Fi will be available to conference participants in the meeting space.

Making plans to attend STATS-DC

QIP staff will be attending STATS-DC this year, as we have every year for many years. We are currently preparing for the event as described in our recent blog post about how to maximize the benefits of a professional conference. If you are a member of the education statistics community, are interested in learning more about education data, or are attending for another reason, we look forward to seeing you there.

To register and access details about the event, visit the NCES web page on 2018 STATS-DC. If you are unable to attend STATS-DC in 2018 but are interested in attending in a future year, check for updates about future conferences on the IES web page on conferences, workshop/training, and technical assistance.