Mary Gifford's picture

Measuring Individual Student Progress Toward Graduation - Not a Four Year Cohort Rate

The Impact of Under-Credited Students and Mobility in Fulltime Online Schools

In 2010 federal regulations went into effect that require each state to implement a four-year cohort model as the means for calculating graduation rates. This regulation gives every student four years to graduate from the time a student enters ninth grade. Students may transfer from school to school during the four years, but the student must graduate in the fourth year. States are permitted to track a five-year graduation rate, but it can only be done alongside the four-year rate.

This regulation had the goal of creating an expectation that every student can earn a high school diploma, and that graduation rates need to be tracked to show which schools are successfully graduating students in four years. The regulation assumed that students, generally, stay in the same school for four years and that states have systems to efficiently track students as they progress toward graduation.

While perhaps true in some economically advantaged communities, both of these assumptions are fundamentally flawed for far too many of our public schools. Instead, the regulation has created a “hot potato” effect that creates a perverse disincentive for enrolling under-credited students for fear of a negative impact on graduation rate.

States do have some flexibility. States may choose how to weigh graduation rates within their accountability structures.  States may elect to include additional calculations, such as six- or seven-year rates.  They may also reward methods of getting under-credited students back on track, or accelerating the pace at which a student moves toward graduation. These measurements may more accurately reflect what a school does with high school students more than a four-year cohort model. Data shows that many students who are mobile within high schools are often economically disadvantaged, under-credited, over-aged, and academically at-risk. A related report by the Evergreen Foundation (Accountability in the Digital Age, February 2015) looked at enrollment data for 24 fulltime online schools. In these schools, the report that found on average 35 percent of students who entered the schools in grade 10, 11 and 12 are not on track for graduation based on the four-year cohort rate.

Ashley Collier's picture

Weekly Roundup – February 20, 2015

Weekly Roundup is an effort to share more stories and information about the students and schools we serve, K12 educators, and important education issues. 

A Chattanooga Mom’s Plea to Keep Online Schools Open
(The Chattanoogan)

As a busy mom, it’s not often I make my way to our state Capitol to visit with my elected officials. But, last week, I had the chance to do just that as I took part in the Tennessee chapter of Public School Option’s 4th Annual Capitol Day. Joined by hundreds of families from all across the state, including many from here in the Chattanooga area, we traveled to Nashville to make our voices heard. As parents, we believe that we know the best when it comes to deciding the best possible type of education for our children. 

New Report Examines Improved Accountability Frameworks for Online Schools

An important new report on online learning and accountability was released last week by Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning.  Titled, School Accountability in the Digital Age, the report was written and researched by John Watson and Larry Pape with Evergreen Education Group – nationally recognized experts in the field of online learning.

New Partnership Extends the Power of Online Learning to Special Education Students
(Press Release)

Across the country, schools and districts are leveraging digital learning to overcome staffing and resource challenges to improve outcomes and to address the many needs of their K-12 students—whether to expand course options, to provide assistance to those who need additional help, or to provide an alternative learning environment. Now, through a partnership between PresenceLearning and Fuel Education (FuelEd™), schools can use digital learning to address the needs of their special education students, too.   

Jeff Kwitowski's picture

New Report Examines Improved Accountability Frameworks for Online Schools

An important new report on online learning and accountability was released last week by Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning.  Titled, School Accountability in the Digital Age, the report was written and researched by John Watson and Larry Pape with Evergreen Education Group – nationally recognized experts in the field of online learning.

Online schools and traditional schools are very different, yet the standards and accountability frameworks used to measure performance are the same.  State education laws and regulations are generally designed for the brick-and-mortar school and classroom-based model.  Like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, these legal and regulatory frameworks often do not mesh well with online schools.  Even worse, they risk producing an incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, picture of the real quality and performance of online public schools, especially on the effectiveness of educating transfer students who move from a local public school to an online school. 

Policymakers are left to grapple with the question:  what are the best accountability frameworks to use for online schools?   This report takes a big step toward answering that question by outlining 8 policy recommendations:

1.       Credit schools with graduating students in five or six years.

2.       Measure students’ progress towards graduation, especially for situations in which students switch schools.

3.       Change funding mechanisms to systems that minimize the impact of high student mobility.

4.       Publish data on student mobility for all schools, and consider creating a designation specific to schools with high rates of student mobility, regardless of other student demographic factors.

5.       Require separate reporting on online programs so that online student outcomes can be tracked.

Ashley Collier's picture

Weekly Roundup

In an effort to share more stories and information, we at thinkTANK will begin a Friday series called, “Weekly Roundup.” We hope you’ll learn more information about the students and schools we serve, K12 educators, and important education issues.

Check these out! 

Virtual Charter Schools Coming to NC
(Press Release)

Last week, K12 announces a partnership with North Carolina Learns, Inc. to operate the state’s newest virtual charter schools. The North Carolina Virtual Academy (NCVA) will be a first-of-its kind online public school.

Teaching in a Virtual Reality
(Battle Creek Enquirer)

Features Spencer Kahly, a teacher at Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, who shares how becoming an online teacher has helped him cope with epilepsy.

Online public schools are a lifeline for students
(The Tennessean)

TN Public School Option leader and parent, Cathy Berg writes that the Tennessee state legislators take swift action to renew the Tennessee Virtual School Act to protect online school options in the state for the many families that need the option.

Hundreds Rally at Capitol In Nashville To Save Online Public Schools
(The Chattanoogan)

Under threat of closure, more than 400 parents, students and educators descended on the state Capitol to express their support for protecting the right of parents to choose the school that works best for their children, including the Tennessee Virtual Academy, a full-time online public school offered through Union County Public Schools. 

Maine Virtual Academy Approved to Open
(Press Release)

Maine Virtual Academy (MEVA), a statewide online public charter school, was approved today by the Maine Charter School Commission. The new online school will open next school year and serve students in grades 7-12 throughout the state.

Mary Gifford's picture

Data Privacy: What to Know and Policy Considerations

There is a growing need to provide parents with timely, relevant data to make informed choices regarding schooling options. Data is also needed by educators to personalize instruction. Data may be useful to organizations to drive improvements in overall instruction more quickly than previously possible.

Data privacy has received increased attention in the past few years, largely because of the increased availability of data and collection requirements.

As a company that serves teachers, schools and families across the country, we value the opportunity to use data. For instance, we can review student Algebra exams across 40 states to determine if there are curriculum or instruction issues. This data allows school leaders to see that most students missed question number 3 on an exam, which indicates either a problem with the question or the way material is presented through the online portal. For example, if students in Mr. Smith’s class all missed question number 3, then we know there is an instruction issue.

To successfully navigate through data privacy issues, it’s important to consider existing policies and safeguards in place.

These safeguards include several significant and far-reaching policies such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). These policies describe rights afforded to parents/families, restrict access to data, and define the purposes for which data may be collected and used. Additionally, there are laws, policies and practices at the state and local levels that define state- and school-level business practices.

As lawmakers consider data privacy laws this year, there is a complicated balancing act they must perform. Laws and policies need to strike the appropriate balance between:

  • Provision of relevant, timely information to parents to allow them to participate in state-level school choice options
  • Opportunities to personalize learning, forge data-driven innovation and improve instruction products
  • Obligations to ensure local flexibility, transparency and governance, capacity and training
  • Responsibilities to safeguard the collection, use, and distribution of student and family information

At its core, strong data privacy legislation inventories what type of data is being collected, avoids unnecessary collection, ensures data remains close to the student, strongly defines parental access, and develops security plans.

There are, however, additional nuances to consider: