Education
5:07 am
Fri March 22, 2013

Should School Ratings Take At-Risk Students Into Account?

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) reports that less than 85 percent of the students in the class of 2010 graduated. At a hearing Thursday in the Texas Senate, lawmakers heard the case for better tracking students who end up back in school.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, a member of the Senate Public Education Committee, told members that even though high school graduation rates in Texas are improving, some schools aren’t getting credit for their part in those improvements. She was talking about schools that enroll dropouts and give students a high school diploma if they earn their credits and meet the requirements.

Van de Putte wants the the TEA to account for these students and their schools differently. She’s written a bill that would designate schools where at least half of enrolled students at least 17 as "dropout recovery schools."

She says these schools can get poor ratings because they don’t graduate students at the same age and speed as traditional schools. By creating a separate category for these schools, the TEA could give them points towards their accountability rating for each high school diploma they give.

Charter schools like Premier and American YouthWorks in Austin would benefit if her bill becomes law.

Parc Smith, chief executive of American YouthWorks, says his school has students who get pregnant and leave, and others who are homeless. But many come back. So he wants the state’s measuring stick to take this into account.

“We accelerate the learning rate and we get them to graduate, and so we would like to see some measurement that honors that growth we’re doing with those students rather than penalizing us for them not graduating with their original cohort,” Smith said. “We didn’t create that problem. They come to us two to three years behind.”

Blanca Lopez dropped out in middle school and stayed out for six years. She’s now at Premier in South Austin. She started last September and has finished the equivalent of two years of high school. She has plans to finish.

“The teachers worked with me to get back on track,” Lopez said. “I made the mistake of dropping out once, six years ago, and I’m not making that mistake.”

Story as it aired on KUT News, 90.5 FM