Initial steps taken to measure success of alternative schools

Initial steps taken to measure success of alternative schools

(Calif.) The California State Board of Education took its first steps toward developing a new accountability system to more accurately measure the performance of alternative schools that serve credit deficient students.

Alternative schools most often serve high school juniors and seniors who lack sufficient academic credits to remain on track to graduate with their age cohort–in some cases students may be years behind academically.

At its May 10 meeting, the state board approved an application process requiring alternate schools to re-certify every three years in order to participate in an alternative state accountability system. Schools will now qualify if at least 70 percent of students are considered at-risk of not graduating within four years.

Meanwhile, much work lies ahead in building the new system for measuring performance of the alternative schools.

The decision was welcomed by education officials charged with helping alternative schools develop Local Control Accountability Plans using state mandated indicators, including student performance on statewide assessments, or the percent of children meeting college and career readiness thresholds.

“I am happy to hear an accountability model is being developed again for court and community schools,” Wendy Frink, director of the alternative education division for the San Joaquin County Office of Education said in an email to Cabinet Report. “As we struggle to work through our LCAP using metrics and documents appropriate for traditional schools, we welcome any efforts to help county offices of education clarify how we can measure our success and identify areas for growth.”

Frink, who also acts as chair of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association’s committee on alternative schools in the state, said that her first action when taking the position was to help begin coordinating LCAP trainings for county offices of education that handle alternative education.

California’s prior Alternative School  Accountability Model took into account student behavior, measured by suspension rates, student punctuality or disruptive outburst; attendance and assignment completion rates; grade promotions and course or credit completions; growth in achievement related to math, reading and writing; and completion through high school graduation or GED completion.

Of those, only rates of suspension, attendance and high school graduation rates remain in use under the LCAP.

Recent research has found, however, that measures of traditional school success often aren’t useful in judging the performance of alternative schools. Reports released in the last two years from both the Policy Analysis for California Education as well as the Public Policy Institute of California found that typical indicators of student progress, including annual growth on state test scores or four-year graduation rates, do not adequately gauge how well alternative schools are doing in meeting their objectives.

Alternative schools serve students who have a variety of challenges. Many have been expelled or suspended for lengthy periods of time, while others may be pregnant or parenting, have behavior issues, be cyclical drop-outs, habitually truant, and credit deficient. Some are, or have been, enrolled in court schools while in the juvenile justice system.

Estimates from the California Department of Education and Legislative Analyst’s Office suggest that almost 210,000 students are enrolled at approximately 800 public alternative schools across the state. However, because these students often only attend alternative schools for a short period of time and student turnover happens throughout the school year, the non-profit Public Policy Institute said that many more students attend alternative schools each year than enrollment figures suggest.

The CDE is currently working to develop indicators for alternative schools that evaluate the success and progress of alternative schools based on the state priorities of the Local Control Funding Formula as well as requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

A blue ribbon panel convened to take up the task is expected to provide a recommendation on revisions to the eligibility criteria for action at the July SBE meeting.

“In so many of these schools we’re talking about kids who at the very bottom of the achievement level, and they need all the help they can get,” board member Bruce Holaday said during the May meeting. “And one of the ways we can help with this is by creating this accountability system not as a way of distinguishing these schools from traditional schools and charter schools, but by providing them with the right kind of data that will help them with their continuous improvement.”

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