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HELPING STUDENTS GET BACK ON TRACK: New Alliance Report Offers Recovery Options for Over-age and Undercredited Students

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“Just as mail carriers have policies in place to prevent lost packages and get delayed packages back on track, school systems need policies to identify students who have lost their way and help get them back on course.”

Federal education policy must address the nation’s off-track student population, or those who have fallen behind in credits or are over-age for their grade, according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. In considering policies to address these students’ needs, the publication calls on federal policymakers to consider lessons learned from the New York City Department of Education’s (NYDOE) Multiple Pathways to Graduation (MGP) initiative.

The report, Helping Students Get Back on Track: What Federal Policymakers Can Learn from New York City’s Multiple Pathways to Graduation Initiative, describes the MPG effort and its success in helping off-track students succeed, in part by acknowledging that they are a varied group that requires different educational settings in order to reach the same high standards.

“Just as mail carriers have policies in place to prevent lost packages and get delayed packages back on track, school systems need policies to identify students who have lost their way and help get them back on course,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance and former governor of West Virginia. “Leaders of the New York City MPG effort recognized this early on and designed educational options specifically for students who had previously been unidentified and underserved. Lessons gleaned from this experience are an invaluable resource for educators and policymakers across the country.”

According to the report, the MPG model is built upon three key principles: access to a range of rigorous academic settings designed to meet particular academic needs, relevancy created by connecting course work with postsecondary opportunities, and comprehensive support to lessen academic and personal challenges. In implementing MPG districtwide, NYDOE also relied on community-based partnerships for each school site and the extensive use of data.

The report offers three federal policy recommendations that take into account the needs of off-track students, New York City’s experience of implementing MPG, and recent discussions around a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

  • Align accountability measurements to the new goals of graduating all students ready for college and a career. Federal policy must acknowledge the K–12 shift in focus from graduating students “proficient in basic skills” to graduating students “college and career ready.” Recognizing that some schools—such as those that are part of MPG—are designed to serve students who have already fallen off track to graduate in four years, federal policymakers should take steps to ensure that accountability metrics are both appropriate and useful for alternative settings. Federal policymakers should also help accelerate the ability to produce longitudinal statistics about students’ actual outcomes in college and their careers by continuing to invest in the development of state data systems and increasing pressure on states to build linkages across the P–20/workforce pipeline.
  • Leverage data-driven approaches to high school improvement. Currently, federal policy prescribes a number of one-size-fits-all strategies for districts and schools that receive federal Title I funding and fail to meet annual progress goals. To ensure that school improvement strategies target a school’s unique challenge, it is critical that state, district, and school leaders start using additional data, such as the percentage of off-track students or attendance rates, to identify problems and implement solutions. Federally funded districtwide high school improvement efforts should be required to identify, understand, and develop recuperative options for their dropout and potential dropout populations.
  • Invest in innovative strategies to experiment with new approaches and scale up best practices. Federal policymakers should ensure that existing funding streams address youth development principles and target schools and programs serving students with the highest challenges. Part of the federal research and development agenda should be dedicated to studying successful strategies for addressing the off-track student population and building the pool of potential partners for helping schools and districts provide nonacademic student supports. Federal policy should also continue to create opportunities to encourage innovation.

To read the full brief, visit here.

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