Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Can you really identify high school dropouts at 3rd grade??

I read a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that really got me thinking.  It indicated that a study that followed almost 4,000 students reached the conclusion that it was possible to identify children at high risk to drop out as early as 3rd grade by the reading level.  This is how the report presented the information:
One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.The rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: 23 percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers.Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their childhood inpoverty.For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently in third grade, the proportion that don’t finish school rose to 26 percent. That’s more than six times the rate for all proficient readers.The rate was highest for poor Black and Hispanic students, at 31 and 33 percent respectively—or about eight times the rate for all proficient readers.Even among poor children who were proficient readers in third grade, 11 percent still didn’t finish high school. That compares to 9 percent of subpar third grade readers who have never been poor.Among children who never lived in poverty, all but 2 percent of the best third grade readers graduated from high school on time.

Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma. Now, researchers have confirmed this link in the first national study to calculate high school graduation rates for children at different reading skill levels and with different poverty rates. Results of a longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students find that those who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. For the worst readers, those couldn’t master even the basic skills by third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater. While these struggling readers account for about a third of the students, they represent more than three fifths of those who eventually drop out or fail to graduate on time. What’s more, the study shows that poverty has a powerful influence on graduation rates.The combined effect of reading poorly and living in poverty puts these children in double jeopardy.

The study relies on a unique national database of 3,975 students born between 1979 and 1989. The children’s parents were surveyed every two years to determine the family’s economic status and other factors, while the children’s reading progress was tracked using the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) Reading Recognition subtest. The database reports whether students have finished high school by age 19, but does not indicate whether they actually dropped out.

For purposes of this study, the researchers divided the children into three reading groups which correspond roughly to the skill levels used in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): proficient, basic and below basic. The children were also separated into three income categories: those who have never been poor, those who spent some time in poverty and those who have lived more than half the years surveyed in poverty.

I was interested in hearing how Howard County Schools handle the issue of dropout and today I talked with Craig Cummings.  He explained that he and Ann Blackwell work on the dropout issue.  Every Spring schools identify those students at highest risk of dropping out.  This process happens with students entering 6th and 9th grades.  The risk factors are student test scores, school attendence and school suspensions.  Sometimes a socio-economic factor can be involved but this factor is not as important as the other factors.

Once a high risk student is identified a plan and a support team is developed for each high risk student.  This support team can involve teachers, counselors, pupil personnel workers and special ed staff.  Families are approached to gain their involvement and support.

Maryland has a target goal of keeping dropouts below 3% statewide.  Howard County not surprisingly beats this goal with a dropout rate of 1.25%.  This equates to 240-250 student dropouts a year.  This rate has been about the same for the past couple of years.  About 3 years ago there was a significant reduction.  The students still dropping out today are only those that are the "toughest of the tough."  The only groups of students that have not met the 3% dropout goal for Howard County are Hispanic and African American students.

One way the the School System is trying to address the dropout problem is through the offerings of the "career academies" offered at the Applied Reach Lab (ARL).  Housed in the old Vo-Tech building the academies offer many of the vocational trainings that the Vo-Tech program used to offer.  There is a recognition that for some students a hands on training experience maybe more relevant than just classroom instruction. 

The School System has also discussed where more flexible school times could keep some students engaged. Maybe instruction between 12-6 or some classes in the evening might keep some students in school.  As with any issue flexibility may address some of the problem.

News Hour segment on the dropout problem


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