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A large school district hired Edstar to evaluate the effectiveness of a federal grant-funded program that was designed with the goal of having long-term suspended students re-enroll in school after serving their suspension, and be successful.  The grant paid for additional school counselors to case-manage the students while they were out of school, connect them to services, including enrolling them into the school system’s alternative schools while suspended so that they could earn credits, and not be so far behind.

 

The school system contracted with a private firm that ran the alternative high school.  Although far more students were suspended than this school’s capacity, the alternative school was never even half full.  The school system did not understand why.  A major objective was to get the kids to enroll in this school.

Although nearly all suspended kids could enroll in this alternative school, the school counselors reported to Edstar that most of the kids they were case managing got letters from the school system that said “No Offer” next to the name of the alternative school.  We confirmed with the office that sent the letters that with few exceptions, kids could enroll in this school.  This was a mystery for the first year.  The school counselors were very frustrated.

After countless meetings and interviews with the office that sent the letters to the suspended students, we discovered that there was a field in their data system with the variable for “No Offer” to the alternative school.  Because the condition “No Offer” was so rare that they never needed it, they were using this field internally to indicate that the paper work was not complete.  A secretary generated and sent the letters, which was a feature of the data system.  Because no one talked to students once they were suspended, they had not realized that the kids and their families thought they had “No Offer” to enroll in the alternative school.  These counselors thought the same thing when they saw the letters.  We got this fixed after the first year of the grant.  The alternative school, which had been mostly empty for years, filled up.

Another glitch that we uncovered later was that when kids took courses at the alternative school, the courses did not have the course codes used by the school system because it was a private school.  In many cases, they did not get the credits they had earned because the data manager at their base schools did not know how to enter the courses.  In some cases, the data managers were deciding how to translate them, and they were not doing it all the same way.  In other cases, they simply told the kids they couldn’t have the credits.  Edstar then worked with the school counselors and the data department to create a standard way to translate the course codes.

Beliefs and Skills of the Staff

Understanding Data Details: The office that worked with the suspension data had operated for years without any feedback after they generated the letters.  They didn’t understand how re-purposing that No Offer field without changing it affected the letters that were generated and sent to families.

Without these school counselors acting as advocates, the kids had previously had no recourse when they did not get the credits earned at the alternative schools.  No one was aware of this.  No one with authority had realized that the schools needed a way to translate the course codes from the alternative school.

The Outcome

The grant funded the additional school counselors for 5 years. By the end of 5 years, the dropout rate for long-term suspended students had significantly decreased, the alternative school was full, and kids were re-enrolling and being successful.  We also learned a lot about what kinds of services were most effective for helping the kids.

The head of school counseling and Edstar published a paper about what was effective in a peer-reviewed journal.

The school system made these additional school counselor positions permanent when the grant ended, due to the documented effectiveness of the program.