Big changes are coming for Ohio’s dropout prevention and recovery schools

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State report cards are a hot topic in Ohio, but most of the attention has been focused on the system used for traditional district and charter schools. Many Ohioans are unaware that state law requires the State Board of Education to have a separate report card system for dropout prevention and recovery charter schools (DPRS). During the 2016–17 school year, there were eighty-nine dropout-recovery schools operating in Ohio: seventy-six brick and mortar schools serving just over 10,000 students, and thirteen online schools serving nearly 4,000 students. Together, these schools account for 12.5 percent of Ohio’s charter school enrollment.

DPRS report cards contain four indicators:

  1. Graduation Rate: This includes the conventional four- and five-year rates, but also rates extending to eight years. The use of extended rates—e.g., looking at whether students earn a diploma eight years after entering ninth grade—is based on the premise that DRPS schools typically enroll credit-deficient students who may need more time to meet graduation requirements.  
  2. High School Tests: This calculates the percentage of twelfth graders who have earned the designated passing score on the applicable state achievement assessments.
  3. Annual Measurable Objectives: Also known as the Gap Closing component, this indicator compares the academic performance of subgroups and determines how well schools are closing achievement gaps between groups.
  4. Growth in Student Achievement: Ohio calls this the Progress component, but progress is measured differently for DPRS than for other schools. For dropout recovery schools, state law requires growth to be measured in reading and math based on “separate nationally norm-referenced assessments” instead of state tests. The NWEA MAP assessment is used to meet this requirement.

Unlike traditional schools, DPRS are not assigned letter grades, either on each individual component or an overall grade. For every component listed above, they receive a designation of “exceeds standards,” “meets standards,” or “does not meet standards.” To calculate the overall rating, they are awarded points for their performance on each measure, and the points are totaled based on the weighting of each indicator: Graduation rate and student growth are worth 30 percent each, and test passage rate and gap closing are worth 20 percent each. The final total is used to place a DPRS in one of the three categories mentioned above. Schools that do not meet standards for two of the three most recent school years are subject to Ohio’s automatic closure law—unless the school is in its first two years of operation.   

Earlier this month, the state board adopted significant changes to the administrative rules surrounding this system as part of its five-year rule review process. These changes will have a serious impact on DPRS going forward. Here’s a look at three of those changes.

The definition of a dropout prevention and recovery school

Previously, the Ohio Administrative Code identified a DPRS as one where a majority of students were enrolled in a dropout prevention and recovery program. This included students between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four who were at least one grade level behind their peers or experienced crises that “significantly interfered” with their academic progress. Conversion charter schools that were sponsored by a district but not included in the district’s traditional state report card could also be deemed DPRS.

Under the new rules, DPRS identification shifts from a majority of students participating in dropout-recovery programs to much higher percentages. During the upcoming 2018–19 school year, schools with 50 percent of their students enrolled in dropout prevention programs can still apply to the department for a DPRS designation. But for the 2019–20 school year, the minimum percentage of students will increase to 65 percent—and by 2020–21, it’ll be 75 percent.

In layman’s terms, it’s about to become a lot harder for schools to earn a DPRS designation. This matters because the title means that a school is evaluated based on the DPRS report card, which has far lower standards than the traditional state report card to accommodate for their focus on serving at-risk young people.

Though it was never openly discussed, this rule change could be a response to ECOT, which attempted to reclassify itself as a DPRS earlier this year in order to sidestep closure. Regardless, the new rules are a clear attempt to ensure that dropout prevention policies apply only to schools that are legitimately serving at-risk students. As ODE staff told the State Board of Education, the previous rules permitted a school to be evaluated with a DPRS report card even if 49 percent of its students weren’t in dropout recovery programs. Even worse, districts could sponsor conversion schools that enrolled students who were at risk for dropping out because of poor attendance, disciplinary problems, or suspensions. These districts were then granted waivers from having the school’s data included in the district’s traditional report card—pushing the door wide open for districts to escape accountability by funneling chronically absent or behaviorally difficult students into schools with considerably lower standards.

Increasing graduation rate performance levels

Dropout prevention and recovery schools are responsible for educating students who aren’t on track to graduate, so it’s important for the DPRS report card to take into account extended timeframes. That’s why six-, seven-, and eight-year graduation rates are added to the four- and five-year rates that traditional districts and charters are subject to. In the table below, you’ll find the original rules regarding graduation rates for a DPRS report card.

These standards are considerably lower than those for traditional district and charter schools, who earn F grades if they graduate less than 79 percent of their students in four years. Although it’s understandable why DPRS report cards have easier targets, these numbers still seem remarkably low. The state board agreed, ratcheting up the minimum graduation percentage in every category. Take a look:

These changes not only increase the graduation rate expectations considerably, they also require schools to increase the number of students who graduate each year in each cohort. That’s different than the previous rules, which had the same expectations for the five- through eight-year rates. Since this indicator accounts for 30 percent of a school’s overall rating, it’s possible that doing poorly on it could cause more schools to earn an overall “does not meet standards” designation—and too many years with such a label leads to automatic closure.

Test participation requirements

The state board added new provisions as well, the most significant of which mandates that if less than 75 percent of students who are between the ages sixteen to twenty-one and enrolled in a dropout prevention and recovery program take the exams used for measuring student growth (which, remember, are different than state tests), the school will be rated as “does not meet standards” on the student growth indicator. That measure, like the graduation rate indicator, accounts for 30 percent of a school’s overall rating—which means that schools who fail to test enough students could face stiff consequences.

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The state board’s changes to DPRS report cards are significant and likely to seriously impact the sector over the next few years. Despite the potential drama, though, these are important changes that will require the schools that serve Ohio’s at-risk students to be accountable for serving them well—and to weed out any bad actors who benefitted from the previous rules.  

 
 
Jessica Poiner
Jessica Poiner is an education policy analyst in the Fordham Institute’s Columbus office. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked and taught in Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District.