Roughly 10 percent of freshmen class students nationwide find themselves struggling to earn enough credits to pass ninth grade, leaving them with only a 20-percent chance of graduating on time. This past year, the Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Decatur Township teamed up with the University of Chicago to combat this issue by implementing a Student Transition and Enrichment Pathway (STEP), a research-based program proven to produce growth in academic achievement and graduation rates among high school students. With its new STEP program in place, Decatur Township experienced significant success in just six months.
Does your school district face the same problems with its graduation rates? If you’re looking to improve the success of your students these steps can help you get to the root of the problem and establish strategies to increase key graduation statistics.
Identify the indicators of falling behind
In order to effectively battle increasing dropout rates, educators need to first research statistics and identify specific indicators that lead to high school students falling behind. The STEP program identifies these indicators by reviewing each student’s academic performance and attendance. This allows educators to distinguish which students are “at risk” and need additional support and encouragement on their path to graduation.
Ahead of the next school year or semester, our district invited the identified at-risk students to participate in a pilot year of the data-driven STEP program. The program gives these students the opportunity to focus on literacy and math skills and core academic courses while receiving social and emotional support.
(Next page: More steps to improve student success)
Create a tailored curriculum
The mission of the STEP program is to help 100 percent of at-risk students get back on the path to graduation by the end of the year. For freshmen, that means earning at least two English and two algebra credits, as well as a minimum of 11 total credits. For sophomores, the goal is twice that: four English and four core math credits, as well as 22 credits minimum overall.
To achieve this, it is vital that an individualized curriculum is crafted around graduation requirements. The STEP program allows educators to identify goals, establish methods, and tailor assessments specifically towards these students in a way they have not experienced in their previous curriculums. Building strong relationships between at-risk students and educators has also proved to be the most effective tool for improving statistics and achieving success. Making a conscious effort to develop these relationships can have a major impact on students.
Additionally, MSD of Decatur Township learned that tailoring the school’s location and class schedule for the program benefited the students immensely. We held the STEP program at a separate high school and incorporated a special Wednesday schedule in which students are dismissed at 12:15 p.m. During academic hours, students participate in an hour of Response to Intervention or test preparation and then split them into two groups, based on their on-track status. On-track students earn the opportunity to play sports, draw, write, or socialize. Students who are off-track go to resource rooms to catch up on work and raise grades. Taking this approach not only encourages students to excel in classes by providing an added incentive, but gives teachers the opportunity to use the afternoon for assessment and preparation.
Collect and monitor weekly trends
You have the students. You have the curriculum in place. Now it is time to gather data, study results, and consistently monitor the trends. This is the most important step of the STEP program because it allows educators to course correct as they go, without waiting for standardized test results that can take months to receive. Specifically, STEP uses the data from the outcome of week-to-week instruction to inform decision making and intervention planning. Using this weekly collected data, your administration can track student-performance trends such as grade point average, discipline, and interaction. This allows educators to implement strategies and lesson plans on a weekly basis that are tailored toward the students’ specific needs.
A brighter future
Through rigorous research, consistent trend tracking, and comprehensive data training, school districts will be able to better support students on their path to graduation. The key to increasing graduation rates is to provide students with the tools, compassion, and understanding they need to realize their potential. From there, your administration can help encourage its students to take advantage of these provided resources and move toward building their best life.