Far too many students are either failing or not thriving in Arizona's public school system.

Unfortunately, that was also true in 1995 when Edge High School was founded. It was Pima County's first charter school. Before that, it had been a grants-funded high school credit-recovery program.

Edge's mission since its inception has been to provide a safe and respectful educational alternative with a strong counseling component, for students who have dropped out of high school or who are in danger of doing so.

Edge is constantly trying to improve what it does, and we know we have a lot of work to do. But we feel strongly that our ability to continue to be a part of the solution to widespread student failure is under grave threat, in large part because of the way Arizona's Department of Education system measures the progress and achievement of the students we serve.

When students enroll at Edge, we review their credit-earning history and are fully aware that many will be unable to graduate within the typical four-year high school window, or with their cohorts. At one of our sites, 80 percent of the seniors enrolled with credit deficiencies of one year or more. Nearly 50 percent had credit deficiencies of two years or more, and across all sites, we have students who have credit deficiencies of three years or more.

We accept them knowing that we have the staff, the curriculum and other resources to support their educational development and progress toward graduation. We also accept them with the full knowledge that doing so virtually ensures that we will not meet federal and state benchmarks for the four-year graduation rate.

The Labeling Trap

Since we struggle to meet federal benchmarks for graduation rate, we also struggle to consistently meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements and improve our Arizona Learns Labels issued by the Arizona Department of Education. Edge is trapped between its mission and an evaluation system that overlooks the realities and the needs of the students who are coming to Edge.

An alternative approach

Edge is a pressure-release valve, not only for students looking for an alternative that will get them to graduation, but also for schools that will not accept or work with students who will not graduate on time and who require significant skills remediation. The current system and its evaluation components work against youth on the margins and the schools seeking to educate them. The very students Edge has chosen to serve make it virtually impossible for Edge and other schools like Edge throughout the state to succeed.

many enroll with weak skills

In 2012-13, Edge had 240 total students and 107 graduates. Only 48 of the 107 graduates were seniors graduating in their fourth year, or with their age group. The remaining 69 students were fifth-(45), sixth- (18), seventh- (4), and eighth-year (2) seniors.

According to evaluation tests at enrollment, 90 of those 107 graduates enrolled at Edge (often as juniors or seniors) with skills well below grade level in math and/or reading:

• 85 enrolled with grade level skills in math below the eighth grade level.

• 63 enrolled with grade level skills in reading below the eighth grade level.

Turning young people away from Edge who are willing to work hard and try their best, despite their past difficulties, is not an option. We believe in them. They inspire us with their heroic determination and resilience, and they have proved us right time and time again.

We recognize the value of data and accountability at Edge, but we also recognize that we live in an era that is obsessively data-driven at the expense of our humanity. If we forget the value of all of our young people and the social and educational realities that affect their current lives and futures, we will continue to see our educational system and our society diminish around us.

Greg Hart is the president and Rob Pecharich is the principal of Edge High School.