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NET Charter leaders seek a fair way to grade alternative schools

Louisiana’s new school accountability standards have alternative schools like NET Charter High School looking for different ways to be judged and remain open.

NET principal Elizabeth Ostberg said she is working with ReNEW schools and Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy to develop a parallel accountability system that is “fair to the schools, and makes sense for parents.”

The three schools opened around the same time, and share similar student populations.

Ostberg said that while the school will most likely score a failing grade on the new standards, they will also receive a second grade based on the parallel system in the works.

“There is no scenario that I expect us to get a passing score based on this new system.” Ostberg said. “It’s just fundamentally not going to work.”

Ostberg explained her efforts to the board that oversees NET, Educators for Quality Alternatives, at their Jan. 15 meeting.

The new metrics by which schools receive their performance score are eleventh grade ACT scores, End of Course exam scores making a “good” or above, and four-year graduation rates, (regardless of what school the student was attending when he or she started).

The graduation component is the main reason Ostberg says NET will not pass the new standards. She said the vast majority of students attend NET because they will not graduate within four years, with most taking five or six years to finish.

The new system does grant some points for students graduating within five years, but not for six or seven-year students.

In an effort to streamline testing towards a “common core” set of standards for schools throughout the United States, End of Course exams are changing every year, and this is the first time Louisiana is including those scores in school accountability ratings.

Louisiana’s tests will fit the common core model for the 2014-15 school year.

Ostberg said most NET students score a “Fair” rating on the exams, which is one step below a “Good” qualification.

Board president Kristina Kent called the situation one of the board’s top priorities in the next six months, and said that even with the school’s review two and half years away, now is the time to figure out how the school will be graded.

Both Kent and Ostberg admitted to knowing about the new standards when NET opened in August 2011, and said they made the choice to open the alternative school anyway.

“We didn’t think we could get anyone to address this issue without having a school to show that it doesn’t work,” Ostberg said. “People at the state realize this and are open to conversations. I don’t think anyone wants our schools to fail.”

Defining what qualifies a school as “alternative” is a big question that the principal thinks will be defined by the group of schools working to create the parallel criteria.

Also in attendance at the hour and half-long meeting were board members Gregory Rattler, Jr., Will Kulick, Gary Howarth, Christoper Kaul and Michelle Brown.

The Educators for Quality Alternatives board will hold their next meeting on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m.

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