A large school district hired Edstar to evaluate the effectiveness of a federal grant-funded program designed with the goal of having long-term suspended students re-enroll and succeed in school after serving their suspension. The grant paid for Transition Counselors to case-manage the students while they were out of school, connect them to services, and enroll them into the school system’s alternative schools while suspended so that they could earn credits, and not fall so far behind. The goal was to have more of these students re-enroll after being suspended, instead of dropping out.
The school system contracted with a private firm that ran the alternative high school. An objective of this program was to get the kids to enroll in this alternative 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.
Although nearly all suspended kids could enroll in this alternative school, the Transition Counselors hired to case manage the suspended kids reported to Edstar that most of the suspended students got letters from the school system that said “No Offer” next to the name of the alternative school.
Both Edstar and the Transition Counselors confirmed with the school system's office that sent the letters that with few exceptions, kids could enroll in this school. The term "No Offer," on the letters was a mystery for the first year of the grant-funded program. The Transition Counselors were very frustrated and did not know how to resolve this problem of the students receiving "No Offer" for enrollment in the alternative school. The first year of this grant, as in the years prior to the grant, very few students enrolled in the alternative school when they were suspended.
The relevant staff, Transition Counselors, the Assistant Superintendent, and Edstar staff met after the first year to figure out where the breakdown was. During that meeting, we discovered that the Office of Due Process used the "No Offer" field in their database to indicate they are waiting on a response from the family. She hadn't look at the letters, as a secretary printed and mailed them. The secretary didn't read the letters, either. Neither of them was not aware that the letters said "No Offer" on them.
They explained that when the data system was designed, they had not realized they would need a field to keep track of whether the parents had completed the paperwork. When they realized they needed this, they were informed adding a field would be very expensive. Because they didn't expect to need the "No Offer" field, they just used it for keeping track of whether the paperwork was complete or not.
This had been going on for years. 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 Transition Counselors thought the same thing when they saw the letters. After the first year of the grant, the school system got this fixed. The alternative school, which had been mostly empty for years, then filled up.
Once students were enrolling in the alternative school, another glitch was discovered. The alternative school was a private school, and the courses did not have the course codes used by the school system. Students often did not get the credits they had earned at the alternative school 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.
Minority students were disproportionately affected by the problems with the suspension resources.