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DOE accedes to calls for expanding college readiness metrics

Reversing a previous proposal, the Department of Education will award credit to city high schools whose students enlist in the military or enroll in “rigorous” career training programs the year after graduating.

This fall, the department is preparing to factor students’ post-graduation outcomes into schools’ annual progress report grades. When officials first devised the new metrics, which will augment performance data of students who are enrolled in the high schools, they proposed giving credit only for students who enrolled in college the semester after graduating.

In a series of feedback sessions earlier this year, principals pushed back against the narrow scope of the proposal. They argued that students who meet the military’s enlistment standards have been adequately prepared for life after high school as well.

This week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced that the department agreed with the principals — and would liberalize the metric even more by granting credit when students enroll in vocational training or public service programs such as AmeriCorps.

“This new version of the metric will reflect the diverse pathways our students pursue after graduation that lead to meaningful careers,” Walcott told principals in a weekly email message sent last night.

The switch was part of this year’s final revisions to the methodology behind the progress reports, which the city uses to decide which principals to reward and which schools to shutter.

In another significant adjustment that Walcott said was based on feedback from principals, the department will delay using information about students’ performance in ninth grade when assessing their middle schools.

“We originally proposed including 9th-grade credit accumulation for former 8th-graders as a scored metric in this year’s Progress Report for middle schools,” Walcott wrote in the message to principals. “But after hearing your feedback that this change would be too dramatic to implement in one year, we decided to report — but not score — this metric for 2011-12 and to include the metric for a score in 2012-13.”

A document summarizing feedback about the proposed metrics shows that the department did not accept every suggestion it received. For example, the department rejected a proposal that it only take into account the number of middle school students who attempt advanced classes when assessing how many pass them. The explanation: Such a change “could create an unintended incentive to artificially limit participation in rigorous courses.”

Some details about the new post-graduation plans metric have not yet been hashed out. Guidance published on Tuesday says that information about which programs would qualify as “rigorous” is still forthcoming.

Last month, a top department official said the logistics of obtaining enlistment data from the military would be complicated, but that getting it by 2013 seemed plausible.

Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman, said today that the department decided the issue was too important to let wait. He said the department expected this year’s military enlistment data to be incomplete but valuable nonetheless.

The broader set of college readiness metrics — which also includes the rate at which students passed college-level exams or courses and met CUNY colleges’ proficiency standards — was reported on the most recent progress reports but did not factor into schools’ scores. Department officials have warned that some schools could see their grades drop precipitously because their graduates have not shown that they can succeed after high school.

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