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Dropout numbers called ‘misleading’

Charter school head criticizes method used to determine stats

Posted: August 1, 2008 8:57 p.m.
Updated: October 3, 2008 5:03 a.m.

The dropout data released recently by the California Department of Education is misleading and places Opportunities For Learning charter school in an undeserved bad light, according to OFL Deputy Superintendent Bill Toomey.

The alternative school for at-risk students partners with the William S. Hart Union High School District, and therefore was included with that district's dropout figures. Out of 696 dropouts for the Hart district in the 2006-07 school year, 511 were listed as students at OFL.

But Toomey says the system the state uses to calculate the dropout numbers penalizes schools like OFL, which are designed to help students who are struggling. For one thing, the state calculates each school's enrollment by counting the number of students enrolled on one day in October.

"Basically, they freeze the data on that one day and that's the total enrollment you're given for the entire year. But the majority of our students enroll after school begins, and sometimes even late in the year, because they are referred by their school," Toomey said. "For a program like ours, capturing our enrollment on one day is not a fair assessment."

While the state shows the enrollment at OFL to be 1,625 for the 2006-07 year, the schools - three in the Santa Clarita Valley and four in the Antelope Valley - actually served 4,049 students that year, according to Toomey's records.

‘Lost transfers'
The charter schools don't get credit for any students who enroll after the first Wednesday in October, but the state counts all dropouts throughout the year, even if that student dropping out was not part of the enrollment number.

"If a student enrolls after October, we don't get credit for that student enrolling, but we do get the credit if they fail, so there's really no incentive to get new students," Toomey said. "But we don't concern ourselves with that - we're not going to turn students away because it might hurt our numbers."
Using Toomey's enrollment figures, OFL has a 12.6 dropout rate for 2006-07, instead of the 31.4 shown by the state.

"As a parent, if you told me that my child, who was at risk of dropping out of school, could go to another school that specializes in recovering at-risk students from dropping out, and they had an 87 percent success rate, I would jump at the chance," he said.

Another thing that makes the state figures misleading is the practice of counting "lost transfers" as dropouts, Toomey said. Out of the 511 dropouts attributed to OFL, 300 students were classified as "lost transfers," which means they could be enrolled at other schools.

"I think a lot of those students have enrolled at other schools," Toomey said. "We like the system (used by the state), but they definitely have some kinks that have to be worked out."

API scores high
Instead of focusing on dropout figures, Toomey prefers to look at OFL's academic results. The charter school's 2006 Academic Performance Index score of 634 was one of the highest in the state when compared to other model continuation high schools, and OFL received a ranking of 9 out of 10 in the 2007 similar-schools rankings released by the state.

"For me, that's a key indicator of the good work we're doing," Toomey said. "Plus, the Hart district renewed our charter last year for five more years, because they see the value of our program."

The mission of OFL is to help students who have not had success in a traditional school setting to get back on track and get a diploma.

Often, the students are able to transfer back to their original school in the Hart district before graduating.

"Traditional schools work for a lot of kids - especially the exceptional schools in the Hart district - but traditional schools don't fit every student," Toomey said.


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