Key Lessons About Preventing Dropouts
In recent years, states have focused much attention on student achievement, but little on how many students ultimately leave school with a diploma in hand. This is changing: Nearly every governor has pledged to develop tougher ways to measure graduation rates at the same time that the No Child Left Behind Act has begun requiring states to hold schools and districts accountable for the results.
Of course, one prerequisite for shepherding more students successfully to graduation means keeping them in school in the first place.
Fortunately, research offers important lessons for districts that decide to tackle the dropout problem head on. We now know a surprising amount about how to identify potential dropouts, and how to keep students in school and on track to graduate. Districts should pay close attention to these lessons when developing plans to raise graduation rates.
Plans that are most likely to be effective are comprehensive and address the following major components:
Prediction: Processes for identifying students early on who are in danger of dropping out.
Intervention: Programs and initiatives to help high-risk students get back on track.
Prevention: Ways to organize school programs that will minimize the chances a student will become at risk of dropping out.
Recovery: Options for keeping older students in the pipeline when intervention and prevention are not enough.
Here are the highlights of these components:
Prediction: How to identify students who are likely to drop out
1. Most students who drop out leave school because of bad experiences in school.
Dropouts are twice as likely to say they left for school-related reasons as for family or personal circumstances (Berktold et al. 1998), something that holds true for all demographic subgroups (Jordan et al. 1999). To identify students at risk of dropping out, schools should look for those with weak grades in core subjects, poor attendance, and little involvement in school. These factors better predict who will drop out than such characteristics as race, poverty, gender, or family background (Neild and Balfanz 2006).
2. Districts can identify a majority of eventual dropouts—up to 85 percent—by ninth grade, and many well before that.
Researchers working in Philadelphia can identify fifty percent of eventual dropouts as early as sixth grade and an additional thirty percent by ninth grade (Neild and Balfanz 2006). Researchers in Chicago have created an "on track" indicator that predicts with eighty-five percent accuracy which ninth graders will not make it to graduation (Allensworth and Easton 2005 ). Investing in data and good prediction up front can save districts a great deal of money in the short-term and garner better results in the long run (Jerald 2006).
3. Schools need to pay close attention to the transition grades.
Students who drop out often struggle making the shift from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school. Even students who showed no warning signs in earlier grades can suddenly see their classroom grades or their engagement in school drop off during sixth and ninth grades, putting them seriously at risk. (Roderick 1993, Neild and Balfanz 2006, Allensworth and Easton 2005). Allensworth notes that ninth grade absences are twenty times more predictive of eventual graduation than eighth grade test scores (Education Week 2006).
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. © 2007, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
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