In Conversation With ...

In Conversation With ...

In Conversation With ... Kate Shirley Akers

on the importance and value of education and workforce data
Kentucky School Advocate
May 2016
In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.

Dr. Kate Shirley Akers is the executive director of the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, which collects data from education and workforce sources and creates reports that help Kentucky leaders make more informed decisions about education and employment issues. She is making presentations at education co-ops throughout the state on how school districts and educators can use KCEWS (pronounced K-Seuss) data.
Q: For readers who aren’t familiar with KCEWS, explain what it is, how long it has been around, why it was created and what it does.
A. KCEWS, the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, is an independent state agency housed within the state Education and Workforce Cabinet. It began in 2009 as the P20 Data Collaborative, a collaborative among the Kentucky Department of Education, the Education Professional Standards Board and the Council on Postsecondary Education. These organizations said, “We’ve got all of this data and are interested in the outcomes for students and teachers. Wouldn’t it be great if we could put all the data together so we could offer actual quantitative evidence about the successes and challenges of these education programs?” This was sponsored by grants from the U.S. Department of Education through what is called the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Grant Program.

Q. But it was more than a name change?

Yes. We added data from the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority and workforce data from the Department of Workforce Investment, including unemployment, insurance, wage data, claims data, job seeker data, Office for the Blind, Office for the Vocational Rehabilitation – the whole workforce side of the house. In 2013, when we received our state legislation, our name changed as well.

Q. So outcomes became an important aspect of the data?

Yes, specifically employment outcomes. We don’t think of it simply as education to workforce but this entire pipeline of individuals going through the education system, entering the workforce, perhaps receiving more training through our workforce programs or adult education and then going back into the workforce. It is no longer a linear pipeline but more of a cyclic process.

Q. KCEWS sounds much richer, data-wise, than its predecessor.

We have expanded our data, and we continue to expand with every grant we receive, as well as with questions that come up from groups like the Kentucky School Boards Association or from superintendents or college presidents. Their specific questions give us great ideas about directions we need to take to bring in new data and build new reports.

Q. You have several standard reports?

Yes, one of our signature reports is our high school feedback report on college-going and college success, the first report we put together. It talks about the progression between high school graduation and to postsecondary. The follow-up report on college success shows not only that these students went to college but how they are doing in college. With the longitudinal nature of the data, we will build upon multiple years, and show college completion and then into the workforce for those same students.

Our other signature report is the Kentucky County Profile, a two-page education and workforce outlook for each county. These quick reference guides can be used to see, for example, academic achievement levels by county, how many students are graduating with an associate degree or a STEM degree, and kindergarten readiness rates for that county.

Q. You also have plans for some new reports?

Yes, some of our newest work focuses on outcomes for career and technical education students. We will publish a statewide look, but the idea is that within the next several years, we will provide this down to at least the regional level to offer some feedback about employment and postsecondary outcomes for students who are career ready or have gone through a credentialing. We are also doing work about sector supply and demand at the region level. We want to offer these regions information about what jobs are available in their regions and what credentials we anticipate individuals are already in the pipeline to receive, to see how those match up.

Q. Can you give some examples of ways schools and school leadership can use these reports?

The high school feedback study on college-going and college success can be used for strategic planning. The data in our system aren’t based on phone or mail surveys, but on actual postsecondary records and actual wage records. We take that burden off the schools to collect the information and then we can offer back that feedback and say this is how these recent graduates are performing, both in postsecondary and the workforce. For districts planning around career and technical education, we think a regional approach will let them see the employment outcomes for students going down this career pathway. The other good example is our early childhood profiles. It includes information such as kindergarten readiness and third-grade reading and math, but also about what the pipeline looks like for students coming through the early childhood program. So it gives a measure of the need for child-care assistance, students in Head Start, students in preschool.

Q. You have given short presentations at two education co-ops and plan to speak at all of them. Explain your message and your mission.

Our general message is that we are tired of being the best-kept secret at the state level in terms of data and accessibility to useful data. We are educating superintendents and school districts about the data in our system and our robust security policies, and as we talk about how superintendents can use that data, you can see the wheels turning. They have very specific programs they would like for us to evaluate or questions about where these specific data elements come from. School districts spend a lot of time putting this data in the system – when we bring in data from the Kentucky Department of Education, it primarily comes from the student information system. So we hope they can see this data being used and returned to the districts in a useful format.

Q. What types of information are most in demand for school districts?

Outcome data, because that is the piece that school districts may not have. We also get specific questions from districts; for example, we had a superintendent ask “How do these data look when we look at transient students?” So we can come back and fill in that data for them.

Q. What type of information should districts be seeking but aren’t always asking for?

We want them to know that we are a resource and when they see our reports, it is an invitation to ask us additional questions. We can dive into reports and dissect that data to meet their specific needs. We can look at particular programs that may be in schools and also at the workforce communities in their districts.

Q. At the co-ops, you gave each superintendent or policy maker a personalized packet of reports for their area to show them the type of information KCEWS can provide.

Yes, the other thing we produce is a variety of maps. We can explain college-going rates on a map so you can see the pattern on a map and then perhaps, for example, compare that map to a map of individuals living in poverty.

Q. Tell me about dynamic reporting.

Right now all of these reports are available in a pdf format on our website and as Excel documents. We are working on a dynamic reporting solution, where a principal or a teacher could go in and pull up information about college-going, for example, for their school, and be able to aggregate that however they would like in terms of demographics, or look at that data over time and also look at schools in their region or some higher-performing schools and see what their rates of college-going are. Dynamic reporting will be user friendly and a way to help guide schools to dig into their own data. As they have questions, we can help them with the actual analysis.
It is more of a self-service model, but we will be ready to support them in any way. Say, for example, a board member has a specific question about college-going rates for males in their community. The superintendent can pull up the data quickly and see what that looks like historically, and perhaps in comparison with other districts around them.

Q. How far away is dynamic reporting from being reality?

We plan to release the college-going portion of it in late fall.

Q. KCEWS also maintains the Kentucky Longitudinal Data System, a statewide longitudinal data system, and apparently the state is a leader in building this sort of a system?

Yes, Kentucky has really made progress because of the strength of the data systems of the other agencies I have mentioned and because of our leadership, which has pushed forward while other states have gotten stuck. We are one of only 16 states to receive the latest round of grant funding and that is what supports the majority of work in our office.

Q. How can school districts and others request research and data?

We are trying to simplify this process. The easiest way right now is to email us at The complexity of the request determines how long it will take to get an answer, but we have four or five people answering requests. In the future we will have a more robust online system for requests. And we want to remind people that as they look for the types of data we have, we also want to hear their comments and questions about what else they would like to see. 
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