Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Increasing the Graduation Rate


The is the first in a new series of articles on the the commissioned research study, Increasing the Graduation Rate. Dr. Donna O'Neal, the author of the final report, will discuss the report and break out the findings in upcoming Georgia Graduation Stories blog posts for educators, parents, community and state leaders who are invested in increasing Georgia's High School Graduation Rate.

Increasing the Graduation Rate, Part 1

The State of Georgia has extensive school improvement efforts underway, from working with low performing schools in continuous improvement efforts to implementation of a new standards-based curriculum to the implementation of more rigorous graduation requirements. Efforts are paying off - Georgia’s graduation rate is increasing. However, the problem remains, and thousands of students drop out of Georgia schools each year. Georgia’s dropout rate must be tackled directly, comprehensively, and strategically.

In order to provide effective and efficient programs and interventions for students who are potential dropouts, Georgia first must have an accurate way to predict which specific students will drop out of school. Then the State must provide to those students programs and/or interventions which are proven to keep students in school through graduation. Data on the identification of potential dropouts and on program effectiveness must be analyzed. However, there is no clearinghouse of what data are available in the State of Georgia and exactly where the data are located. Therefore, this research was commissioned by the Governor’s Office, the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

Experts from Georgia and the national level were identified and asked to review the research. Agencies and other entities that may have data that would help answer the research questions were also identified. A series of six focus groups were held and interviews conducted. From those focus groups, interviews of other experts, and a review of the literature and data needed to increase Georgia’s graduation rate were identified. In addition, dropout intervention programs were identified and reviewed and data charts were created.

Click here for the full report and details on the research methodology.

Predicting Who Will Dropout of School

Most dropout prevention programs use checklists of risk factors to identify potential dropouts. In this study, more than 40 factors were identified as indicators that students would likely drop out of school. However, the research indicates that these factors are poor predictors of which individual students will actually drop out. There are problems with using checklists to identify individual students to which to target interventions.

It is difficult to know which characteristics and how many predict which specific students will drop out of school.Many students are misidentified. Many students are placed in intervention programs although they probably would not have dropped out, and many potential dropouts are not identified and not provided programs nor interventions. While both sets of misidentified students are troubling, the former uses valuable resources on students who are not likely to drop out of school.

Checklists that are based on a general population with no consideration of students in a specific locale are not efficient in the identification of specific students who will drop out of school.

Since using general checklists to identify specific students who are likely to drop out are ineffective and inefficient, Georgia’s education decision makers at the State and local levels need a set of risk factors that more accurately predict which individual students in Georgia are likely to drop out of school. Research calls for the development of an effective and efficient early warning system. It is recommended that the State conduct a cohort-based, longitudinal study to identify risk factors and pathways which lead Georgia students to drop out of school prior to graduation. Researchers should collect and analyze existing information on cohorts of Georgia students who have moved through the system previously. Analyzing data on past cohorts of students will enable the State to better predict who will drop out in future cohorts.

There are subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, variations in student populations from community to community and school to school. As Georgia creates and evaluates its data system to identify potential dropouts in Georgia at the state level, it should include a mechanism where school systems and individual schools can enter local cohort, longitudinal data that the State may not have which would enable school systems and schools to predict more accurately dropouts at the local level. These data, once collected, can be analyzed for school systems, for demographically similar schools, and for specific middle and high schools. Educators, then, could create profiles which more accurately predict the potential dropouts of a particular locale. This study chronicles two methods to develop a locale-specific data system to predict which particular students will drop out and how this can be done efficiently and effectively.

The research also recommends the following regarding additional data that would assist decision makers:

*Analysis of reasons why so many Georgia students fail the ninth grade,

*Analysis of why so many Georgia seniors do not graduate,

*Analysis of the process used by Graduation Coaches to identify potential dropouts, and

*Analysis of the data gleaned from a more in-depth exit interview process.

Please add your comments and questions directly to the blog. Tell us how you are using date in your school or organization.

Become a regular visitor to the Georgia Graduation Stories blog site.

Georgia Public Broadcasting is pleased to welcome Dr. Donna O’Neal as our newest contributor to the Georgia Graduation Stories blog. Dr. O’Neal is the Director of The Next Generation School Project for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

No comments: