Making Every Student Count, Every Year (Part 2)

This post is a guest post by Chase E. Eskelsen, M.Ed., Project Manager of National Academic Policy at K12 Inc. This is part two of a three-part series on Student Centered Accountability.  See Part 1: Student Centered Accountability: Grad Rate – Fourth Year and Understanding Mobility.
 The key in the graduation rate conversation is to make every student count — every year.  Traditional accountability typically measures three indices, but unfortunately, we’re not measuring what matters (buzz-phrase).  Most noticeably the traditional accountability method is not measuring student engagement at all.  Shouldn’t we want to verify that the student is actively participating in the best educational environment for his/her specific situation?
Academic growth has been measured historically by looking at the standardized tests and verifying proficiency — another No Child Left Behind(NCLB) buzzword.  Wouldn’t we want to personalize this to be more effective?  How about we measure if a student is actually growing at a school?  Wouldn’t an effective measure of growth be to determine if a student is narrowing the gap from last year to this year?  If a student knows more today than last year, the student has grown academically.  The key here is to stop comparing students to other students and start comparing them to their past performance.  Still confused when talking about Growth and Proficiency?  Check out this quick explanation.
Next, we have to look at graduation readiness.  The current model focuses on the cohort calculations and will definitely shed a negative light on schools that enroll as at-risk and credit-deficient students.  Let’s stop looking at this over the course of a four-year cohort and start asking, “What did this student do during the last school year?”  Looking at this annually can catch additional student situations where the student started behind, but for the first time, the student earned sufficient credits over the course of the year.  We should track how each student performed, each year and then grade the school accordingly.
Going back to the Mae story, she would have been on track, at least for her senior year.  That is a very positive story for both Mae and the last school she attended.  Let’s talk about Bobby’s story.  He did not earn enough credits his freshman and sophomore years, but after moving to a new school his junior year, he was able to earn the proper number of credits his junior year, took some credit recovery courses over the summer, received the proper number of courses his senior year, but still couldn’t graduate because he was just a few credits shy.  He finished the year after, as a fifth year senior, and was able to graduate.  Shouldn’t Bobby’s final school be praised for doing such great work?  Instead, it received a negative outcome because of the impact of Bobby’s first school.
Measuring annual progress toward graduation seems like a much better option for all.  It would appropriately affect the first school that was not assisting Bobby and suitably support the new school that was able to get Bobby ready for graduation.  The problem with the current measurement is that we’re seeing schools push out at-risk students to prevent the negative effects of the current system.  Luckily, the Florida Department of Education is now investigating these schools using students as a currency for making accountability ratings via the graduation rate.
The Foundation of Student Centered Accountability can be seen in part one, here.  Part two puts up the walls of the Student Centered Accountability structure, but the roof and finishing touches can been seen in part 3: Making the Grad-Rate Meaningful.  

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