The first change we need to officially make, from a policy stance, is measuring progress toward graduation. This will better identify each student individually as the student moves toward the state requirements for graduation. This could be an annual report which includes if the student is currently on track for graduation, falling behind or closing the gap — when compared to the previous school year or to annual expectations to be on track for timely graduation.
Next, we need to take the mobility aspect into account at a more localized level. The current dropout rules are allowing students to fall between the cracks, hurting the last school of enrollment, and are only in place due to previous policy, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). However, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), there is an allowance to review how this is calculated. To ensure the student is tracked most effectively, the dropout should hit where the student was enrolled the longest, unless that student has completed a full semester with the current school. States could also consider policy that looks at the flip side of mobility: persistence. Instead of penalizing schools for mobile students, a state could reward a school for keeping students.
There are too many urban, virtual and alternative schools where a student enrolls, attends for a few days, weeks, or maybe a month and then drops out. The initial question is, “What happened in the previous school that the student and family had to physically uproot the student and go to another school, often mid-year?” We don’t know the answer to that question and we’ll have to leave that for another day — we can consider that most kids coming into these three types of schools are credit-deficient and at-risk.
The better question is, “If they leave their school of choice, who has the best resources to track them down and ensure they get an education?” The school that has spent the most time with them. However, it would be appropriate that once they complete a semester, they would become dropout-accountable to the current school.
Finally, since we’re going to be measuring the progress toward graduation, it would be implied that we should allow an extended graduation rate for five, six, and even seven years for accountability purposes. We’re not talking about the students who consistently earn enough credits to graduate — the goal would be that all students graduate in four years, but that is not the reality for many students. Kids are behind and we need to start meeting them where they are, not forcing their square peg into the often impossible round hole situation.
The current graduation rate is calculated in such a way that we are harming students where they currently stand and we’re hurting schools that are actively making a pathway for student success in high-risk situations. We must look for a solution that all schools, including traditional suburban and high-mobility urban schools, can get behind — something that will not hurt schools keeping kids on track, that will reward schools closing the gap, but hold failing schools accountable while keeping each individual student front and center and creating a student-centered accountability model.
For more on this subject, please see the August 2017 Ed Note Blog post from Jessica Shopoff, How Mobility Impacts School Graduation Rates: What the data tells us.