Identify Struggling Middle School Students to Prevent High School Drop-Outs

Identify Struggling Middle School Students to Prevent High School Drop-Outs

“Kids in struggling communities and socially isolated neighborhoods far too often follow a predictable pattern: They miss some school, get in some trouble, and soon find themselves failing courses,” according to Robert Balfanz, a research professor at the Center for the Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, and the co-founder of Diplomas Now, writing in The Hechinger Report. “If they fail too many, they are held back and asked to try again under the same conditions. The next step is often a stint in an alternative or virtual school before they leave school without a diploma.

“But this pattern is preventable — even in the toughest schools.

“Four years ago, Noe Castro never dreamed that he would graduate from high school — much less college. His parents had split up, his mom was ill, his dad wasn’t around, and he was working late nights at a gas station. Castro was on the fast track to dropping out. What made the difference was that someone at his high school stepped in before it was too late.

“At 14, Castro was identified as a student in danger of dropping out of San Antonio’s Burbank High School He was paired with a mentor who regularly checked in with him, and he received one-one-on tutoring. He forged through school, graduating in 2016.

“Noe’s trajectory was changed due to committed teachers and administrators working with Diplomas Now, a nonprofit partnership that identifies who will drop out based on a student’s poor attendance, behavior and course performance. Research shows that sixth and ninth graders who are deficient in one of these three areas are two to three times more likely to drop out than their peers.

“Three partner organizations complete the Diplomas Now model: City Year, an AmeriCorps organization that puts recent college grads in schools to provide one-on-one mentoring and tutoring for kids with early-warning indicators; Talent Development Secondary, a Johns Hopkins program that develops school improvement models and support for teachers; and Communities In Schools, which provides social workers who help students with the greatest needs. Through the process, the students’ early-warning indicators are tracked and periodically revised.

“How does Diplomas Now perform on a larger scale? That question is at the center of an ongoing randomized control trial study involving 62 underserved schools in 11 urban districts from Boston to Los Angeles.

“These schools are among the nation’s most challenged: More than 90 percent of the 40,000 students qualified for free and reduced priced lunch, more than 60 percent were not proficient in math and English, a third had missed a month or more of school, a third had been suspended and a third were too old for their grade.

“So where do we go from here? For districts that adopt early-warning systems and evidence-based models like Diplomas Now to support their lowest performing schools, it should mean lower dropout rates — thus more productive communities. And most important, for struggling students, it will mean more veer from the path of dropping out toward one of walking the stage at graduation, on track toward a successful future.

The Hechinger Report

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