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The NET braces for new state standards to evaluate alternative high schools

At a meeting on March 6 in Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was scheduled to approve a new system for evaluating alternative high schools in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Educators for Quality Alternatives, the board that runs The NET, an alternative charter high school, discussed the framework at their February meeting.

The Net Charter High School is a year-round program and alternative high school for students aged 16-21 who have dropped out or are at-risk of dropping out of school. In previous years, The NET, ReNEW Accelerated, Crescent Leadership Academy and Jefferson Chamber of Commerce in Jefferson Parish were graded by the same framework and metrics as conventional schools.  Charter renewal and extension depend on such grades.

All three schools in Orleans Parish received school performance scores of “F” last year and have advocated for a new framework to account for an academically challenged student population.

Last fall, the Recovery School District discussed ideas for a new framework with school leaders and shared a bulletin. Its announced objective was “to develop a simple and fair proposal for an alternative school renewal/extension framework that provides information in addition to the current accountability system.”

After continued discussion, the Recovery School District sent a final proposal to schools for review.  The proposed framework will not replace school performance scores, but will be a supplemental score.  The framework will measure schools based on five indicators.  Three indicators are non-negotiable and determined by BESE. Two indicators can be determined by each school.

The three evaluative indicators that will apply to all alternative schools are end-of-course test performances, credit accumulation and the student stability rate.

“Those indicators seem really appropriate for us,” Elizabeth Ostberg, The NET’s principal  said.

Ostberg voiced concern that students with learning disabilities not be included in the test-performance metric. They take an alternative test, Louisiana Alternative Assessment, Level 2, in addition to end-of-course testing, although they are only required by the state to pass the alternative test to graduate.

“[BESE] is leaning towards letting schools not count those students’ [end-of-course scores] or to count them differently,” Ostberg said.

Each alternative school will get to propose two indicators that will also contribute to the score.  The new framework requires that selected indicators relate to the school’s mission and that they be objective and quantifiable. Selected indicators must be approved by BESE.

The NET submitted a proposal that its two indicators be literacy and math growth and graduation rates.

“Tracking literacy and math growth is something we’ve always done and is important,” Ostberg said.

Measuring growth allows the school to be graded on student improvement rather than current standing.

The NET measures literacy and math growth using Standardized Testing and Reporting, a nationally-used benchmark. The selected indicator aligns with the school’s goal to help students behind in their course work grow at least two grade levels per year or reach high school level for reading and math, according to the school’s proposal.

Ostberg said the chance to redefine graduation rates for evaluation is also key. She said the state defines graduation as students graduating four years from when they start high school, which is not appropriate for The NET.

“We are defining graduation rate as the number of students that graduate, regardless of when they graduate,” Ostberg said. “What’s important is they either graduate before they age out of high school or drop out of high school.”

The NET’s flexible programming allows students up to 21 years old to graduate.

Each indicator will account for 20 percent of the school’s total points for evaluation.

The meeting to review and approve the framework will be in the Claiborne Building in Baton Rouge on March 6. The Louisiana Department of Education currently recommends approval of the proposed revisions and a BESE-Authorized Alternative Charter School Framework.

Ostberg and other school leaders will be in attendance.

The NET’s board also discussed school attendance, which dipped to 66 percent in February. Ostberg said weather, Mardi Gras, and five students on homebound service contributed to the low number.  She said she hopes to hire someone next year to improve homebound educational services for students who are pregnant, in jail, or injured and unable to come to school. She also wants to improve the school’s ability to provide online programming.

Board member Michelle Brown chaired the meeting in absence of board chair Kristina Kent.  Board members Marshall Fitz, Melissa Lessell, and Christopher Kaul were also present.

Click here to view the proposed Alternative Charter School Framework and The NET’s explanation of selected indicators.

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