School districts across Kansas will have to get used to measuring how well they prepare their students for postsecondary success and the workforce, not just how many high school graduates they have, members of the Kansas State Board of Education were told on Wednesday.

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson and other officials with the Kansas State Department of Education have been telling state lawmakers and other audiences for the past several months that Kansas business leaders have told them it has been difficult filling their current workforce needs. Watson has said that by the year 2020, at least 71 percent of Kansas workers need to have a postsecondary certificate or degree.

Brad Neuenswander, deputy education commissioner, told board members that 71 percent represents the “effective postsecondary rate” that Kansas schools need to reach in order to meet workforce needs in the future. According to information he presented to board members on Wednesday, only 44.6 percent of Kansas students from a 2010 graduating cohort group had achieved an effective postsecondary success rate.

“Our goal as a state … is to get to 70 percent,” Neuenswander told board members. “We want to focus on the effective rate. Just focusing on who walks across the stage isn’t going to do it.”

“To me, this is a much more inclusive measure,” said board member Kathy Busch, R-Wichita. “Even though there is a gap, it’s something to strive for.”

As of July 1, the state education department has posted the five-year graduation, postsecondary success and effective averages for each of the 286 school districts on the KSDE website.

“We’re trying to make the connection to the field as to why this is so important,” Neuenswander said. “We don’t need 100 percent. At least three-fourths of our kids have to complete something after high school.”

Several board members asked Neuenswander if superintendents and other school administrators are aware of their data and how they need to look beyond their annual graduation rates. He said many are aware, but with all the new school finance information coming at them this summer, many are still getting up to speed.

“It’s pretty unique,” said board member Jim McNiece, R-Wichita. “We’re asking schools to re-think their relationships with students, not only after they walk across the stage but later. This is a game-changer.”

Neuenswander said the effective postsecondary rates are calculated using comprehensive data collected from the National Student Clearinghouse to which most postsecondary institutions submit their data. He said the state’s K-12 system is responsible for graduating students from high school, getting them to enroll in some type of postsecondary education and having them return a second year. He said the state’s regents universities are responsible for the students’ success after that.

“We don’t want to own them for six years,” he said. “There’s too much that can happen.”

Watson said the Kansas Board of Regents, or KBOR, and KSDE have the same goals to successfully graduate Kansas students so they are ready for the workforce.

“Higher education had only been focused on graduation rates,” he said. “It’s going to take us a while to get this whole culture turned around.”

“It’s not just KBOR,” Watson added. “This is parents, this is communities. It’s the state of Kansas saying that if this is important, we need to take a different direction.”