The HomeBRIDGE home-school program cannot meet the state of Alaska’s Adequate Yearly Progress standards because exchange students enrolled in the program are unavailable for federally mandated testing, the Juneau School District’s assistant superintendent said Thursday.
Laury Scandling, who administered HomeBRIDGE in her former role as principal of Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School, said that under the state’s standards, HomeBRIDGE’s exchange student enrollment prevents it from hitting the target for participation rate on the tests.
“HomeBRIDGE will never make it … because we enroll however many number of outbound exchange students that we have in the program,” said Scandling. “So let’s say you have 75 families in HomeBRIDGE, and 10 of those kids are exchange students. Well, they’re in places like Spain, Poland – they’re not going to come back and take the test.”
Alaska Department of Education and Early Development spokesman Eric Fry confirmed via email that exchange students cannot take the test while they are abroad.
“Students must be in the state to be tested for a state assessment,” Fry wrote Friday.
That poses a problem for AYP purposes, Scandling said.
“If you’ve got fewer than 95 percent of your students testing, then you don’t meet the participation (target) and you’re out,” said Scandling, referring to the requirement for schools to meet AYP in all 40 categories in order to be considered to have met AYP overall. “They will always be no in that cell, and therefore they will never meet AYP.”
Education and Early Development Commissioner Mike Hanley said Friday that he is familiar with HomeBRIDGE, but not the details of its performance data.
But Hanley said it would be “erroneous” to judge HomeBRIDGE as unsuccessful for not meeting the participation target and thus not meeting AYP.
“If they pass the other categories, all the other categories, and the only reason they don’t make it is because they don’t have enough kids test, is that indicative of a program that isn’t functioning well?” Hanley asked rhetorically. “Probably not.”
While exchange students enrolled in HomeBRIDGE earn academic credit while they are abroad, Scandling said they often have to make up some courses upon their return, sometimes delaying their graduation. That hobbles HomeBRIDGE on another AYP target, she asserted.
“They will never make it on graduation rate, either,” said Scandling. Eighty-five percent of a school’s students must graduate on time for them to meet AYP.
“There’s more flexibility in those types of home-school programs, and yet we use a graduation rate that’s standardized across the country,” Hanley said, referring to the four-year on-time graduation metric often referred to as the “four-year cohort.” Of the HomeBRIDGE students, he added, “I would hope that they’re all getting a diploma, that they’re not just stopping their education.”
The last year in which HomeBRIDGE met the AYP target for graduation rate was 2010. It has never met the target for participation rate.
HomeBRIDGE has also never failed to meet AYP targets for testing proficiency. Only misses on testing participation and graduation have kept it from meeting AYP overall.
The JSD has not asked the state for HomeBRIDGE a waiver that would allow it to meet AYP, Scandling said, mostly because it has a relatively small staff focused in other directions.
But Scandling made it clear that the current administration of the school district does not hold a particularly high opinion of AYP.
“AYP is not the best measure of student success,” said Scandling. “It’s not nationally normed … so you can’t even compare kids in Alaska with kids anywhere else.”
Hanley echoed Scandling’s criticism of AYP, particularly its requirement that schools meet targets in all categories in order to pass overall.
“More and more schools are deemed ‘failures’ because we’re not getting 100 percent of our kids above the bar,” said Hanley, employing some hyperbole. “It’s not fair to say all of our schools are failing.”
A DEED news release Monday that accompanied the release of 2011-12 school year AYP data laid out the exact statewide targets for school populations and student subgroups: “82.88 percent proficient in language arts; 74.57 percent proficient in mathematics; 95 percent assessment-participation rate; 85 percent attendance rate (for schools that do not have grade 12); and 85 percent graduation rate or an improvement of 2 percentage points in the graduation rate (for schools that have grade 12).”
The state of Alaska is preparing to apply for a waiver from large parts of No Child Left Behind, the federal program that mandates AYP. According to Hanley, that waiver would allow Alaska to opt out of the AYP requirement.
“We still need to show that schools are accountable, and we still need to have measures for each school,” Hanley said. He added, stressing the point, “We’re not looking to get out of accountability. We’re looking to use a model that’s more fair and makes more sense.”
The DEED has posted a draft of its planned waiver application online at http://education.alaska.gov/nclb/esea.html. It is soliciting comments on the draft from interested Alaskans until Aug. 21, according to a newsletter sent out by Fry on Friday.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.