Alternative education programs switch lanes in California
State offers new accountability tool that stops comparing proficiency at continuation high school to traditional high schools
TULARE COUNTY – If you think holding continuation high schools to the same standards as traditional high schools is unfair, well, the State of California agrees with you. In July, the State Board of Education (SBE) approved the Dashboard Alternative School Status (DASS) program for alternative education schools. The DASS program creates an accountability database, known as a “dashboard,” that will only compare the strengths and weaknesses of academic proficiency at alternative schools, such as continuation high schools, to other alternative schools beginning in fall 2018.
“Because these state indicators and standards were developed for traditional (non-alternative) schools, they do not fairly evaluate the success or progress of alternative schools that serve high-risk students,” reads the California Department of Education’s (CDE) web site.
Most of the local alternative education programs – such as Kaweah High School in Exeter, Bravo Lake High School in Woodlake and Deep Creek Academy in Farmersville – were among the majority of schools that were automatically included in the new dashboard. The State defines “alternative schools” as: continuation, community day, opportunity, juvenile court, private nonsectarian and county-run special education schools; or schools where 70% of enrollment is comprised of high-risk student groups, such as those who are expelled, suspended, wards of the court, pregnant and/or parenting, dropouts, habitually truant and absent, held back more than once K-8, credit deficient, migrant, foster and homeless youth.
J.J. Cairns High School in Lindsay required approval by the Lindsay Unified School District board to be included in the dashboard. The board approved the school’s participation in the DASS at its Oct. 23 meeting but missed the Oct. 6 deadline to be tracked by the dashboard for its 2017 test scores but well before the deadline for its 2018 test scores.
Local alternative education principals say the deadlines won’t matter much because all the SBE has done is approve the Department of Education to build the dashboard but the separate database and dashboard may not be ready for at least a year.
The DASS will also require alternative education schools to re-certify their high-risk student enrollments every three years (i.e., if a school is approved in 2016–17 to participate in DASS for the Fall 2017 Dashboard, this school must reapply in the 2019–20 to continue their participation in DASS for the Fall 2020 Dashboard). If a school fails to re-certify or its enrollment of high-risk students falls below 70 percent, the school will be removed from DASS.