How to Best Implement the Military Student Identifier

This year, approximately 200,000 military-connected children will move across the country, or around the world, at the request of the Pentagon.

Often, these moves happen with very little notice for the family or the receiving schools. These moves can be highly destructive to a child’s education, especially if the student gets lost in “the system.”

Fortunately, Congress recognized the problems these moves were creating for military-connected families. In 2015, it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Included in the legislation was a provision known as Military Student Identifier (MSI). The inclusion of the MSI was important because it, for the first time, specifically called out military-connected students for the additional attention that many of them need.

We have just finished the first year in which local school districts were required to identify, flag and collect information about these students, much in the same way they do with other educational subgroups. For parents who haven’t experienced the MSI yet, compliance is as simple as checking a box on a form.

While it is too early to call the MSI a success or failure, it can be instructive to view ways some school districts have been working with military-connected students. This, in turn, can help determine some best practices that can support the effective use of the MSI by all school districts with populations of these children.

To help this process along, a new study from the Lexington Institute, titled Getting School Districts Ready for the Military Student Identifier, has already done much of the spade work to help school districts and parents gauge their school districts’ readiness to use the MSI to its full potential.

The authors quickly determined that some states are ahead of the pack when it comes to implementation. Prior to the passage of ESSA, nearly 20 states had created some form of the MSI on their own. However, these states were not uniform in how they used their version of the MSI and the data garnered from it. But, at least they were ahead of the other 30 plus states that did not have an MSI.

Using information from the states and school districts that have done a good job in integrating military-connected students and data, it is possible to identify those fundamental characteristics districts should be employing. The authors developed the following matrix to identify key characteristics and levels of implementation.

This chart will not only improve the district’s general policies and practices but also will help the districts take full advantage of the powerful opportunity the MSI holds for military-connected students and their families.

Using the steps outlined in the chart, the study is peppered with real examples and mini-case studies from school districts. While every example and solution detailed in the report may not work for every school district, enough of them will work for most school districts that are starting from ground zero and can serve as inspiration to those working within school systems to improve the education experiences of military-connected students.

The study concludes with a call to Congress to amend ESSA to require states and school districts to collect data for all the accountability indicators covered by ESSA and not just those required by the MSI section of the law (such as growth on assessments and graduation rates), to ensure that states, districts, military staff, and, especially, families and parents can, and should, have a more complete picture of military-connected students’ performance.

The MSI shows great promise in helping ensure that military-connected students do not fall through the cracks when the inevitable permanent change of station order comes and by using the tools and tactics identified in the study, states, districts, schools, and teachers can work together to give these students a better chance of succeeding.

Ham is Chairwoman of Military Families for High Standards.

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