Six weeks ago, New York State identified one out of every four New York City transfer schools for Comprehensive School Improvement, a designation for struggling schools that requires them to implement a change plan to reach certain benchmarks. But the accountability metrics used to determine these ratings aren’t designed to distinguish between transfer schools and traditional schools.

Transfer schools are by definition fundamentally different educational entities from traditional schools. Their mission is to take in students who are over-age and under-credited—those repeatedly failed by the system. These schools are filling a gap that existing structures created and are doing an invaluable service to our state’s students and families. From Eskolta’s own first-hand experience working with 40+ transfer schools in NYC for nearly a decade, in most cases these schools are doing valuable and effective work to re-engage students after they fall off track in other schools. Their varying models—whether smaller class sizes, additional social-emotional supports, or individualized and flexible pathways to graduation—offer students a welcoming and supportive environment grounded in their individual needs. But as designed currently, the state’s measures do a poor job of assessing the progress taking place inside their walls.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to establish accountability systems to ensure schools are serving their students well. It also gives states the flexibility to design a system that would accurately measure the work of alternative schools. The starting point is grounding this analysis in the recognition that these schools intentionally enroll students who are at different starting points than other high school students. While there’s no perfect solution, we have identified a number of comparisons and benchmarks reflective of the reality of these schools which we shared in this blueprint developed last year with Center for American Progress.

If we are serious about supporting all students, we need to invest time and thought into creating improved criteria to assess schools that meet the definition of alternative education campuses. Transfer schools can and should be held accountable, but this must be done using measures that are meaningful and based in the realities of their role in the education system. Otherwise, attempts to ensure our schools serve the students most in need will end up penalizing them.

On June 26, Eskolta’s Executive Director Michael Rothman will be on a panel discussing the issue of accountability for alternative high schools under ESSA at the National Conference on Student Assessment, which brings together assessment practitioners, university faculty, and federal, state, and district agencies from across the country. This year’s theme at NCSA is “Measure What Matters, and Create Accountability for Equity.”

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