The TRACE System - History and Background
 
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Follow-up studies, long a research mainstay of the educational community for assessing educational programs and curricular needs in high school, have not always been as effectual as intended. Among the limitations reported by districts using this research tool were costs (due in part to surveying each and every graduate), low response levels (10% - 20% were not atypical), and skewed respondent-demographics (certain groups of graduates were more apt to respond than others). Usually the resulting data were non-representative and statistically inaccurate. A perhaps more significant impact was that remedial changes based on those data, though well-intentioned, were ill-founded and consequently ineffective.

These problems were addressed in a three-year research program undertaken to develop a follow-up system that could be used by schools and districts to obtain accurate and usable information from graduates. The initial study was designed to examine and isolate variables to use in selecting a sample of graduates whose responses would be qualitatively representative of the entire class. The aims of the second study were to refine the list of variables, determine the relation of these variables to quantitative response rates, and to evaluate data collection methods. In the final study, the sampling and data collection techniques were field-tested in a diverse group of 68 schools and assessed for their utility for longitudinal follow-up studies. The result of that research and development effort was the TRACE Graduate Follow-Up System which has been in wide use since 1974.

A key feature of this system is a three-factor stratified-random sampling model that determines the optimum size and composition of the group of graduates to be surveyed. The model, coupled with the tested and proven data collection measures, produces data that are statistically accurate and representative of the entire graduating class.

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