The Kentucky Department of Education has released minimal data on some of the state’s alternative schools for the first time publicly, but officials say it’s still difficult to determine whether a program is successful.
Around 200 alternative education programs exist in Kentucky, according to KDE. Most alternative programs serve at at-risk students with unique needs. The program could be district-operated or be partnered with a non-district institution–like Bellewood in Jefferson County–and in some cases serve students that are State Agency Children or the responsibility of the Juvenile Justice Department.
Educators say because the services at each school vary so widely–from drug treatment to mental health to students who have to work during the school day–it’s nearly impossible to compare the schools to each other.
Ken Draut, KDE’s associate commissioner in the Office of Assessment and Accountability, estimates there are up to 25,000 students that touch the alternative school system throughout any given year, but not all those students take the state’s standardized test in an alternative school setting.
“What we found out is on a given day in these tested areas there’s about 5,000 kids,” Draut says.
Other estimates say around 70,000 students are cycling in and out of alternative programs throughout the state, but Draut says that’s likely miscalculated. Regardless, only students who are in a particular alternative school on the day Kentucky gives its standardized test in May show up in KDE’s results online. That number, as mentioned above, is about 5,000 students, Draut says.
Also, if the number of students tested at a particular alternative school is too low, the school is not permitted to expose those scores to the public. That’s meant to protect students who may otherwise be identified. So, if you were to look on KDE’s “School Report Card” webpage for results from a particular school, you might come up empty handed.
Further, KDE does not show other assessment data like graduation rates or college-and-career ready rates for alternative schools. These results follow the student back to the school that referred them, Draut says.
But the minimal testing samples KDE provides may still be useful to help determine which students struggle most and it certainly shows that students tested at alternative schools perform significantly lower on average than traditional schools.
“If I was a parent, that would be information I would want to know because their scores are not very high,” Draut says.
The purpose for providing the data publicly is to hold districts and schools more accountable, he says.
Kentucky has had a difficult time tracking and assessing alternative programs and the state recently approved a new regulation that improves oversight of alternative schools, but provides little in the way of assessing an alternative school’s performance.