Alternatives at a glance

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WHO’S ELIGIBLE Dropouts 16 to 20 years old

REFERRAL PROCESS The student’s home school or regional office will handle referrals. Some programs report that dropouts are coming in on their own.

Schools for disruptive students

Who’s Eligable: Students in grades 6 through 12 who have committed a Group 5 or Group 6 offense under the Uniform Discipline Code.

Group 5 offenses are, for the most part, criminal offenses—i.e., aggravated assault, arson, robbery and sex violations. However, if a student is found guilty of “gross disobedience” that is deemed serious, the incident may qualify as a Group 5 offense. In Group 5 cases, the student must have chalked up at least 15 days of suspension.

A Group 6 offense (newly created this year) is defined as the use, possession and/or concealment of a firearm or other destructive device. Under a new federal law, students found guilty are automatically expelled and are eligible for alternative school placement at the chief executive officer’s discretion.

Referral Process: Principal first meets with the student, his or her parent and any additional staff to discuss the student’s behavior. Principal then sends to the regional office a referral form and other paperwork that shows the student’s academic and discipline record, absences and tardies for the year, a description of the school’s discipline program, a description of previous steps taken to improve the student’s behavior, and written proof that discipline at the school is meted out equitably.

In the case of suspended students, the regional education officer will make the final decision on whether they should be sent to alternative schools.

In the case of students facing expulsion, the system’s chief executive officer will make the final decision, following a due process hearing at the regional office.

General operating guidelines

The schools will operate for 20 weeks, offering a minimum of six hours of instruction per day. Hours do not have to be typical school hours.

Each student will have an AEP (alternative education plan) specifying academic goals; special education students will have their IEP (individual education plan) revised as necessary.

The curriculum will include credit-bearing courses so the student can transfer back to the home school or remain at the alternative program and get a diploma.

At least 70 percent of students will be placed in a work-study program.

On a case-by-case basis, students may be encouraged or allowed to transfer back to their home school.

Performance goals

The School Reform Board is requiring that alternative schools achieve a success rate of at least 70 percent for each of the following:

Attendance.

Seniors who earn a diploma or GED.

Non-seniors who continue in the program, transfer to another program or transfer back to a regular public school.

Students who make at least one month’s gain on standardized achievement tests for each month they are enrolled in the program.

Students who earn at least two high school credits before the end of the school year.

Eligible students who are enrolled in a vocational program.

Schools that fall short won’t necessarily have their contracts cancelled, though. Sub-par performance “may be addressed through documentation that explains smaller gains,” board documents state.

Board officials believe the goals are achievable. “We’re working with agencies that know the population,” notes Sue Gamm, chief of specialized services, who is overseeing the board’s program. To be eligible, agencies were required to have at least two years’ experience running similar programs.

Performance data on 16 dropout programs that received board contracts show the goals aren’t out of line. The programs—13 run by private agencies and 3 run by City Colleges of Chicago—receive state money under the Truant and Alternative Options Education Program. They submitted the data to City Colleges, which funnels the state money to them.

In 1994-95, the 16 programs had an average attendance rate of 82 percent and a dropout rate of 18 percent; both figures are comparable to public high schools. Also, 94 percent of seniors received diplomas, and 80 percent of students who took the GED test earned passing scores; students earned an average of three credits.

Test scores were more problematic, though. By the end of the year, 55 percent of students who had scored below grade level in reading at the beginning of the year were reported to have made “significant” gains. In math, the percentage was 48 percent. The overwhelming majority of students began with below-average scores.