UMass Amherst Helps Create Program to Study How Well High Schools Prepare Their Graduates

AMHERST, Mass. - A program to assess how well high school graduates are prepared for further education and careers is being designed and conducted by a research arm of the University of Massachusetts working with the state Department of Education.

The High School Alumni Survey (HSAS) is intended to provide local education officials with a more informed look at the strengths and weaknesses in their academic programs based on how graduates succeed in meeting their educational, occupational, and personal goals, according to Stephen P. Coelen, director of the Massachusetts Institute for Social and Economic Research (MISER) at UMass. The telephone survey, which is being conducted this year in five Massachusetts school districts with differing academic programs and student populations, is based on a pilot survey done by MISER at Amherst Regional High School in 1998, Coelen says.

Information will be gathered from samples of students who graduated every other year between 1989 and 1997, Coelen says. The surveys will focus on what researchers call "outcomes data" - graduates’ higher education and career paths and their views on the usefulness of skills learned and courses taken. In addition, the graduates will be asked for their suggestions on how to improve schools and make other changes that will help school districts meet the goals of the state’s education reform law.

The survey results are intended to complement information from the statewide Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests given to students in grades 4, 8, and 10. This type of "outcomes assessment" is already standard practice in higher education and is expected to be of growing benefit to secondary education as public demands for accountability increase, Coelen says.

MISER has a one-year, $99,872 contract with the state Department of Education with a goal of evaluating the feasibility of conducting the HSAS on a larger scale beginning in the 2000-2001 school year.

NOTE: Questions about the HSAS can be addressed through MISER’s main office at 413/545-3460, or by e-mail at miser@miser.umass.edu For more information, please see the MISER Web site at http://www.umass.edu/miser.