Student Centered Accountability: Grad Rate – Fourth Year and Understanding Mobility (Part 1)


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This post is a guest post by Chase E. Eskelsen, M.Ed., Project Manager of National Academic Policy at K12 Inc. This is part one of a three-part series on student centered accountability.

Part 1: Fourth Year and Understanding Mobility

Graduation rate is a buzzword often used in education, but many don’t really understand what it is or how it is calculated.  When a school has a high grad rate, the assumption is that the school is a success.  Similarly, a school with a low grad rate is assumed to be a failure. But is that always the case?  Let’s take a deeper dive into graduation rates, and explore other ways in which graduation can be measured that would provide a fairer and more accurate picture of how schools are serving students.  

Student Centered Accountability Approach – Fourth Year

In the current graduation rate model, only the fourth year matters.  What does this mean? In order to explain this, let’s create a couple of schools and a handful of students.  These are not real situations.  Our first student is Ben.  Ben is a senior at Banks High School.  This is his first year at this school due to a family move.  He really struggled academically and only earned three credits per semester at his previous school.  Upon enrolling as a senior at Banks High, he was severely credit deficient and is not going to graduate, but he is excelling at Banks High.  He earned six credits each semester (the average number of annual credits to graduate in four years).

Unfortunately, Ben is going to hurt Banks High’s accountability, even though the school was able to help him in a way that his prior school never did.  The reason?  Only the last school, that last holds the student as an enrollee, receives the penalty for his graduation status.  The question we must ask ourselves as we dig through the next paragraphs, “Is this individual student engaged, learning and progressing toward graduation at his current school?”

Understanding Schools with High Mobility

Next, we have to understand mobility.  Mobility does not impact all schools equally in the accountability conversation.  Higher income schools in the suburbs do not see the amount of mobility that our inner-city, alternative and virtual schools experience.  This is the part of the conversation when we should really start considering equity and equality — buzzwords!  What is best for all students — individually?

Our next student’s name is Mae.  Mae started with Main Street High School and only earned five credits over the course of her freshman year.  Mae’s family moved to a new city and she began attending Cityville High.  Over the course of her sophomore and junior years, Mae only earned four credits.  She is now age appropriate for a senior, but in total has only earned nine credits.  She was determined “at risk” and is not successfully on track for graduation.  Her family decides to enroll Mae in Online High as a last ditch effort.  While there is no way for Mae to graduate at the end of her “senior” year, she earns 14 credits.

Mae had a successful year and has loved the opportunity of learning in an environment that works for her, but when she gets to the end of the year and all of her new friends are graduating while she sits on the sideline, she gets discouraged and drops out of school.  The problem — even though Online High was able to be the most productive school for her — she becomes that school’s dropout simply because she was with it last.  The story happens at many inner-city, alternative and online schools — Every. Single. Year.

This problem isn’t singular, nor will one single solution fix the accountability issues.  The next step that is built upon this foundation can be seen in Part 2: Making Every Student Count, Every Year

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