6 ways to improve dropout prevention efforts

Bob Darby, a former educator and district superintendent, shares six critical dropout prevention strategies


Educators have reason to celebrate when it comes to dropout prevention. In 2014, the latest National Center for Education Statistics data showed that the U.S. high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of 80 percent and is on target to reach 90 percent by 2020.

Yet, we are still faced with over 3 million young people who exit America’s public high schools each year without graduating.

Typically, the decision to drop out isn’t based on just one factor, but rather several risk factors that result in disengagement from school. Improving dropout prevention efforts means resolving a student’s disengagement as early as possible.

An effective way to do that is to identify and monitor the academic measures and social factors that signal a student is in trouble, so educators can take appropriate action. Over the past five years, I’ve conducted At-Risk Identification workshops for approximately 155 districts and service agencies in 21 states.

From state to state and district to district, the risk factors for dropping out are similar and mirror those demonstrated by leading research organizations. Such factors include absenteeism, reading and/or math assessment scores a full year or more behind grade level, course failure, discipline problems, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, mobility, and homelessness, among others.

Here are six ways districts can use these risk factors to reduce the likelihood that a student will drop out of school:

1.  Early identification

The earlier a problem can be identified and addressed, the greater the impact—particularly for struggling students. Several education experts acknowledge the strong influence of factors experienced before high school. This means that educators do not have to wait until students’ risk factors become so ingrained that the school system has to expend more time, personnel, and funds to resolve the issue. They should strive to identify these risk factors as early as elementary school or even preschool.

(Next page: Five more dropout prevention strategies)

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