Finally, A Review of At-Risk

Tomorrow, February 23, the Commission on School Funding hears from formula vendor about why we cap number of at-risk students to support and why there are discrepancies on identifiers like gender


This Friday, Infinite Campus will present to the Commission on School Funding regarding the company’s formula that determines which students are entitled to “at-risk” funding.  Since this year’s implementation of Infinite Campus’s “Early Warning System” (“EWS”), many schools have been shocked by the result. The formula has denied funding to homeless students, economically disadvantaged students, girls that have the exact same risk factors as boys, students based on grade-level, and students who are struggling with academic proficiency. In total, the EWS reduced eligibility by 75% compared to the originally proposed indicator for “at-risk,” Free and Reduced Price Lunch (“FRL”) eligibility.  It also excludes tens of thousands of students that are directly certified, and therefore verifiably low-income, despite economic disadvantage being the most evidenced-based and widely used indicator to determine if a student needs additional resources to succeed.

These issues have led to the Commission on School Funding re-examining the Infinite Campus system. Educate Nevada Now welcomes a critical look at this untested method of determining funding for our most vulnerable students. 

Preliminary presentation materials from Infinite Campus attempt to address some questions posed by Commission members at the January 26 meeting, but we sincerely hope all questions posed by the Commission are addressed Friday. Some questions posed by Commission members include:


Could Infinite Campus address the arbitrary bottom 20% cap for funding eligibility based on Grad Scores. This issue has been brought up numerous times by the State Board of Education, Commission, and public. The formula uses individual factors for each student to determine a “Grad Score.” Regardless of how many students may need support, only the bottom 20% of Grad Scores are eligible for the at-risk weight. In fact, the formula serves about the same number of students under the old, categorical funding model (SB178 and Victory School funds). Schools have expressed to us that students with abysmally low academic achievement are being left behind and will continue to be ignored. How can we expect improvements in Nevada while serving nearly the same number of students? Is there any plan to eventually fund a higher percentage of students? 

Could Infinite Campus explain how the data does not seem to support common sense notions of who is at-risk? One member explained that a 12th grader with straight A’s was deemed more at-risk than a middle schooler, defying common sense. Other members also noted that the EWS results did not comport with district and school observations and data. Research on a similar EWS found that simply looking at environmental factors (such as poverty, district, and school) has the same or better predictive value of graduation as the individual risk factors used in the Grad Score system. It begs the question, why is Nevada paying to implement this system rather than using simpler, common sense methods?

Why are race, ethnicity and gender used as factors in the formula? What are the legalities around this? Similar machine learning programs have faced issues related to bias and stigma against students of color, with systems incorrectly predicting non-graduation for these students at a greater rate. Similar algorithms in other arenas, such as health care, policing, and higher education, have also struggled with harmful biases. In addition, school leaders expressed concern that girls with identical risk factors as boys were denied funding, raising legal and ethical concerns.

  1. Why have there been odd results related to elementary schools as compared to higher grade levels? One member explained that elementary school students may be overrepresented compared to data collected by the district. Conversely, school leaders have stated that the current EWS factors seem to heavily favor later grades, and very few factors seem relevant to elementary age students. EWS’s were previously limited to grades 6-12, but Infinite Campus claimed it would figure out how to apply the formula to younger grades as part of its scope of work with Nevada. What has Infinite Campus done differently to apply the formula to K-5? Why are districts and schools seeing such odd results? Is Nevada using a new, experimental K-12 system to determine funding?
  2. Relatedly, will the at-risk weight dollars ever be able to follow each individual student down their school, as is required by law?  Districts are struggling to have the at-risk funds “follow the student” due to the odd outcomes of the Infinite Campus model and other factors, such as transiency, everchanging Grad Scores, etc. When the money does not follow the student, schools cannot utilize Grad Scores to direct those resources. Can this be corrected?
  3. Is a student’s likelihood to graduate (Grad Score) the only appropriate measure for whether a student needs resources? Other states are grappling with the limitations of these EWS formulas, recognizing that focusing on a narrow set of students “miss[es] the forest in the trees.” What about social emotional needs or other types of vulnerabilities not addressed in these systems, especially those related to poverty? Why not support all students that are living in poverty, as is done in many other states? Are systemic issues being addressed? Does the narrow focus on just graduating miss Nevada’s goal of “graduating students college, career and community ready”?
  4. What has been the success of these models in other states, especially as it relates to determining funding? Similar EWSs have been used elsewhere in the country, but typically as a tool for schools and counselors to determine which students need additional support. ENN is aware of no other state that is using this system as the sole measure to determine funding for at-risk students. Kentucky uses the model to identify students that may need resources in addition to those identified as low-income. Nevada appears to be the guinea pig in this respect. 


We look forward to learning more at tomorrow’s Commission on School Funding meeting. We must get this right for our most vulnerable students and our state. The Commission on School Funding meeting can be viewed here at 9am.