May is National Foster Care Month – a time to recognize the pivotal role everyone can have in advocating for children and youth in foster care. Students in foster care are often highly mobile and need the coordinated help of the adults around them to make smooth transitions between schools, identify and address educational needs, and more. As this month comes to a close, it’s an important time to reflect on how students in foster care can be supported at all stages of their education. But this can’t be done without data.
This is the first year that states are required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to include the academic performance and high school graduation rates of students in foster care on their annual report cards. However, while conducting research for Show Me the Data in January 2019, DQC’s research team found that 33 states did not include academic achievement data for students in foster care on their school-level report cards. When data about students in foster care is not made publicly available or is difficult to find, use, and understand, communities are left in the dark about how these students are being served.
The District of Columbia is an example of a state that publicly reports information about students in foster care that is relatively easy to find. The percentage of enrolled students who are children in foster care is displayed on the first page of the state, district, and school report cards. Student achievement data and high school graduation rates are readily available for students in foster care along with other student groups – but what the data reveals is alarming. For example, as of the 2017-2018 school year, the statewide four-year graduation rate for students in foster care was 46 percent. On the other hand, at some high schools, the graduation rate for students in foster care exceeds the state average, reaching as high as 82 percent. With this information, state and local leaders can identify and learn from schools that are finding more success serving these students and support those best practices.
Another state to look to is Indiana, where leaders recently released a report on the educational outcomes of foster care youth that goes beyond compliance. In addition to the federal reporting requirements for students in foster care, the report includes education outcome data like grade retention, suspensions, and whether students attended failing schools. With more robust information like this, advocates say the state can do more to help students in foster care.
State leaders have a key role in ensuring students in foster care have the supports they need to be successful throughout their education and beyond. Securely linking and sharing data and publicly reporting outcome information will help form a more complete picture of how these students are faring and lead to more purposeful decisionmaking and positive outcomes. These are efforts that will benefit students in foster care all year long, not just during National Foster Care Month.
This blog post is also available as a story on Medium.