Three Cheers for the Military Student Identifier

Last year’s landmark education legislation known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides enormous opportunity for states to ensure the success of all of its children through access to a great education regardless of race, income, or geography. Thanks to an amendment adding a ‘military student identifier,’ more than one million military-connected kids will be helped by the law as well.

Paramount to ESSA will be the need for states to take thoughtful and deliberate look at their current systems. What gets measured matters and in order to create positive and continuous improvement, each state needs to capture information that allows them to make good decisions.

This is particularly true for military-connected kids. This unique group moves on average six to nine times between the time they start kindergarten and graduate high school, three times more often than their non-military peers. That movement makes it extremely difficult to know how these children are faring. In fact, the Government Accountability Office, the government’s own watchdog, wrote in 2011, “there are no data available on [military-connected] students that could be used to assess their academic achievement, education outcomes, or determine where funding needs are the greatest. Such reporting requirements exist for certain other groups of students, such as economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.”

An overwhelming percentage of military-connected students (more than 75%) are in our public schools. Many teachers and administrators are unaware that they have these students in their classrooms, and therefore are not aware of their needs. With different sets of academic standards taught in different states, there was also no way of knowing how they were doing compared to their peers.

Through the military student identifier, administrators will have new insight on their military-connected kids including academic progress and proficiency, special and advanced program participation, mobility and dropout rates, and patterns over time across states and districts lines. Other categories of information will likely include where military-connected students go to school, how they perform, whether they graduate and what they do after they graduate high school (college versus work force).

All of this results in better knowledge of how these students are performing as a group. And knowing that helps schools as well as local, state and federal governments suggest and make changes that will benefit students, as well as ensure support is going to the areas that need it most.

The creation of the military student identifier will not solve every problem for military-connected students. For instance, currently the indicator provides insights for only the children of active-duty military and not the National Guard and Reserve, leaving out a substantial number of kids who are also impacted. However, it is a tremendous step forward.

Knowing where military-connected students are and what kind of education they are receiving provides federal, state and local leaders with information necessary to direct resources to the schools that teach them – an important milestone in ensuring that these students have the same chance to succeed as every other student.

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