NACSA Senior Policy Advisor Nelson Smith (center, right) leads a
March 2013 working group on alternative education at PCSB
More than a dozen charter policymakers, authorizers and school leaders from around the country recently met at PCSB to discuss how to best measure the performance of schools that enroll primarily students who face unusually high risks for academic failure.
Maybe they got pregnant and dropped out. Perhaps they fell behind in school and are now several grades below level. Maybe they went to jail, or missed many days of school because they bounced from one foster home to another, or faced some other issue that has made their education anything but a straight path.
The two-day event was sponsored by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the membership organization for groups around the country that have the power to open, close and oversee charter schools. PCSB hosted the event at its offices and PCSB Deputy Director Naomi DeVeaux participated to give the perspective on the issue for DC.
Nelson Smith, NACSA Senior Advisor, said charter authorizers from around the country have reached out trying to find guidance on the issue of measuring these schools not just with proficiency rates on test scores. The challenge was to find a different way, one that accurately identifies quality “alternative” schools that does not create low expectations for what the schools’ students could accomplish.
“We heard from so many members who were looking for models,” Smith said. “So we thought why not bring people together?”
Tony Simmons, of the High School for the Recording Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota, said his state had no official designation for “alternative” but that one was needed. The school targets older students who have struggled to learn. He said it could be in trouble of being shut down, as the state follows federal guidelines that call for at least 60 percent of ninth grade students who started high school together to graduation in four years. The school -- and many like it that choose to engage dropouts and/or students who are severely academically behind -- will not be able to meet a graduation rate of 60 percent in four years.
Simmons said just knowing he wasn’t the only charter operator grappling with the issue was helpful. “You learn from what other states are doing, you hear some of the struggles and you can take it back,” Simmons said.
So what to do? Among the approaches the working group discussed: Using five-, six-, or even seven-year graduation rates; using re-enrollment and attendance rates to show re-engagement or using a norm-referenced test to measure student’s progress mastering content far below the current grade level standards. Smith said the working group plans to hold two more sessions on the topic.
PCSB has been wrestling with this issue and is already considering adding different graduation rates into our Performance Management Framework (PMF). (The PMF already includes re-enrollment and attendance rates.)
Like the St. Paul, Minnesota school, our schools in DC would be at risk of closure because they are rated as a “focus” or “priority” school under federal guidelines. PCSB passed an interim policy last April to address the issue, but we’ll be looking for a permanent solution in the months ahead.
For more on “alternative” schools, check out the following links: