Letter: More to virtual charter school grad rates than just four-year totals

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Melissa Gregory, Principal, Oklahoma Connections Academy

As principal of an Oklahoma virtual public school, I have to share my thoughts regarding the article, “Most virtual charter schools’ students don’t graduate,” published on Dec. 1, 2019.

Oklahoma Connections Academy serves a group of students with unique educational and personal needs. These students tend to be highly mobile, switching schools often to find a school that is a good fit. A deeper look at the state’s performance data and graduation rate calculations is needed to accurately understand how Oklahoma Connections Academy helps students succeed.

Though Oklahoma Connections Academy posted the best graduation rate in your article, the 54.2 percent rate is for the four-year cohort in 2018. However, this calculation does not take into account the unique student population that virtual schools serve.

Our student population is highly mobile, with many students enrolling after an issue elsewhere or as a temporary solution to an academic or personal problem. Often, these students come to us credit deficient and, therefore, unable to fulfill their graduation requirements in the typical four years. We are committed to serving these students, no matter how long it takes them to graduate. The five-year graduation rate for our class of 2018, at nearly 60 percent, makes it clear that some students simply need additional time to graduate, which is always worth celebrating.

Further, if you look at the students who were continuously enrolled with us since the beginning of their Freshman year, our graduation rate rises to 91.4%. The longer students are with our school, the better they perform. But while limiting mobility may increase student performance, there are several factors — health, family circumstances, temporary hardships and more — that require students to make school changes and we need to be open to serve any and all students.

We encourage you not to take the four-year cohort rate alone at face value, as individual students have different challenges and require different paths to achieve success. Education is not one size fits all, and it’s crucial that we welcome all students — behind on credits or not — with open arms.

Sincerely,
Melissa Gregory
Principal
Oklahoma Connections Academy

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