More realistic measures should score alternative schools

More realistic measures should score alternative schools

(Calif.) Common indicators used to measure school performance at traditional schools do not accurately reflect progress made at alternative schools, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Policy Analysis for California Education released a whitepaper last week recommending schools that serve credit deficient students be measured using different performance indicators, noting that common indicators such as high school graduation rates or grade-level proficiency on statewide exams will be practically useless, because the students often start so far behind.

“Numerous analysts have concluded that existing state and federal accountability measures and data collection requirements applicable to traditional schools do not provide the information necessary to identify how well alternative schools are serving students, nor do they provide incentives for schools and districts to innovate and improve,” authors of the report wrote. “Field research into ‘beating the odds’ schools confirms that alternative schools that focus on school connectedness, academic progress, and successful post-secondary transitions measures and that establish clear identification, placement, induction, and monitoring procedures for all of their students can and often do provide important opportunities and resources for a vulnerable population of youth to succeed academically.”

Alternative schools most often serve high school students lacking sufficient academic credits to remain on track to graduate with their age cohort–in some cases students may be years behind academically. Numerous studies and data collected from the California Healthy Kids Survey show these students are more likely than their peers to abuse drugs or alcohol, get into more physical altercations, be physically victimized both in and out of school, come into contact with the juvenile justice system or be foster youth.

In California, almost 210,000 students are enrolled at approximately 800 public alternative schools across the state, according to estimates from the California Department of Education and Legislative Analyst’s Office. A recent report from the LAO found that the state’s current school accountability system fails to adequately address how the long-term objectives or shorter-term performance expectations alternative schools be measured.

Authors of the new Policy Analysis study looked at how states including Colorado, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina and Oregon hold alternative schools accountable for improvement or performance trends, rather than absolute performance requirements placed on traditional schools. Additionally, each state also allows these schools to select the indicators that local school leaders believe are most appropriate for their education program.

The California State Board of Education is currently developing evaluation rubrics to measure local progress toward state priorities under the Local Control Funding Formula. State indicators include student test scores in English language arts and math, progress of English learners toward English language proficiency, college and career readiness, and rates of graduation, chronic absenteeism and suspensions.

Authors of the report recommend policymakers consider indicators that would realistically measure the growth students in alternative schools make.

Instead of high school graduation rates, for example, an indicator such as progress toward graduation measured by completion of graduation-required credits or of minimum course distribution requirements needed for graduation would better reflect performance in alternative schools, according to the report.

Authors also suggest taking into account academic benchmarks such as student promotion to the next grade or subject-level achievement and state or subject-level test passing rates in addition to standard academic indicators.

Similar alternatives can be used in place of college and career readiness and chronic absenteeism rates as well, according to authors.

“As California moves forward with the design and implementation of a radically new accountability system, the SBE and other policymakers must recognize and acknowledge the specific circumstances and needs of students enrolled in alternative programs,” authors concluded. “Failure to do so will place the futures of the state’s most vulnerable youth at even greater risk.” more