Published Online: November 2, 2010
Published in Print: November 3, 2010, as Scholars Urge Creation of Early-Warning Systems

Report: States Should Track Early Dropout Indicators

As states and districts prepare to report new common longitudinal graduation rates this year, national graduation-rate researchers argue educators should go beyond the basic data.

“Improving graduation rates in this country requires more than simply reporting accurate rates,” concludes a new report by the Committee on Improved Measurement of High School Dropout and Completion Rates, a joint project by the National Research Council and National Academy of Education. The former is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the latter an invitation-only group of noted education scholars.

“To truly improve outcomes for students,” the report adds, “data systems need to incorporate information that enables early identification of at-risk students.”

The 2010-11 school year is the first in which states, districts, and schools must report their high school graduation rates based on a common methodRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader in which cohorts of students entering 9th grade are tracked through graduation. Next year, the four-year adjusted cohort rate, as it is known, will be used for federal accountability under the No Child Left Behind law.

The federal method is “a good start, but it’s not the whole story,” said Robert M. Hauser, the committee chairman.

States will get more bang for their bucks by building systems that track individual students from year to year, Mr. Hauser said, allowing districts to diagnose more fine-grained graduation-rate trends. For example, the committee advised districts building their graduation-tracking systems to include warning indicators, such as: frequent absences, failing grades in reading or math, poor behavior, being overage for grade, having a low 9th grade grade point average, failing 9th grade, or having a record of frequent school or district transfers.

Creating more-nuanced systems, the researchers argue, will allow schools and districts to identify struggling students in earlier grades and tailor interventions to keep them in school or encourage those who have already left to return to school.

“You shouldn’t lock the barn door after the horses have left; you should get these indicators before the students go off track,” Mr. Hauser said.

Vol. 30, Issue 10, Page 17

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