NewsEducation / May 14, 2020

Report: Indiana Students In Foster Care Face 'Gaps Of Knowledge'

Empty chairs in a classroom.  - Pexels

Empty chairs in a classroom.

Pexels

Students in Indiana’s foster care system face a much higher expulsion rate and much lower graduation rate compared to their peers, according to a new report. The Foster Care Data Report found test scores and other metrics show a “significant gap in students’ academic achievement and success.”

The data comes from a jointly released study by the Department of Child Services and the Department of Education. It’s the second year the departments collaborated to examine educational outcomes for foster children in the state’s traditional public and charter schools.

The 2019 graduation rate for seniors in the foster system fell to 55.3 percent out of 691 students. This is a year-over-year decrease of about 9.3 percentage points. Those rates are far below the 87 percent graduation rate for all Indiana students in 2019.

Document: Foster Care Data Report 2018-2019 School Year

“A major contributing factor to this difference is the high mobility rates of foster students, creating gaps in academic knowledge,” the report states, adding that increased collaboration between state departments and local schools can help ensure educational stability.

Maggie Stevens, president of Foster Success, an advocacy and support group, says she’s pleased the state is providing accurate data but is troubled by the findings.

“So there's a big gap of students that we're losing, who aren't going to be in school. And then of those who are graduating, we see even greater jumps in the number of students that are graduating with waivers or general diplomas,” Stevens says. “Which means they're not meeting the minimum standard that our state has put forth for college and career readiness.”

Of those that graduate, 65.7 percent earn a Core 40 diploma, a rate higher than their peers. But more foster students earn a general diploma and use a waiver from requirements, like passing the ILEARN 10, to graduate.

“This data demonstrates the gaps are increasing from 2018,” the report states.

The report is based on data from 16,894 foster children identified as attending a school in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The two departments were able to match 98 percent of school-age foster youth with enrollment records. The report says both will work further to “refine and improve the reporting and collecting” of data.

Some of the report's findings about foster care students, include:

  • 36 percent of seniors received a waiver from graduation requirements -- compared to 12.1 percent for all Indiana students. 
  • Suspension rate is nearly a quarter of all foster students, 23.3 percent, compared to 9.3 percent of general population students.
  • Expulsion rate is 1.08 percent, more than four times the rate of general population students.
  • ILEARN scores for foster care students -- 23.1 percent in English and 24.2 percent in math -- are substantially lower than their peers at 47.4 percent and 47.2 percent, respectively.

Adam Baker, a Indiana Department of Education spokesperson, says the report is necessary and highlights the work ahead.

“Supporting our foster students is important. As we work closer with state agencies, local districts, and community partners, we hope we cannot only increase the graduation rate for our foster students, but also their overall academics and well-being,” Baker says.

The Department of Education is a part of several initiatives aimed at improving outcomes and understanding of students in foster care. Those include: training for district-level foster care point-of-contacts; Increasing monthly data sharing between departments; increasing resources and training around trauma-informed teaching and local mental health services.

Stevens, of Foster Success, says the state is moving in the right direction by drilling into this data. Raising awareness of the issues, she says, is vital for the public to understand. Additionally, she says, the sharing of information between agencies can begin to help local schools know if they have foster care students in their buildings and begin to provide better support to them.

Then, she says, the state must figure out “how we leverage additional resources for those individuals that are tasked with supporting these students in their schools.”

The Foster Care Data Report for 2018-2019 was approved by the State Board of Education today. No board members or staff commented on the report during the virtual meeting.

Indiana has 30,683 youth in the foster care system, that includes non-school age children.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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