Increasing Graduation Rates


Jocelyn Martin, Alma Powell, Brenda and Caleb Martin

The average national graduation rate has risen to 80% from 78%, which was the highest it had been since 1974!  However, the goal of this president is to have that increased to 90% by 2020.  This is a distinct challenge since, every 26 seconds, a high school student drops out! For minorities, the drop out rates are even more startling! While an average of 85% of Whites are graduating annually, only 67% of African-Americans are graduating in the same four year period.  According to the Schott Report, nationally, nearly half of all African-American males are not graduating in the scheduled four year span! I recently presented some of this alarming information at the National PTA Emerging Minority Leadership Conference in Washington DC where our keynote speaker was none other than, Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise Alliance who hosts the annual Grad Nation Summit, which I was honored to be sponsored to attend before. Graduation and dropout rates are not the inverse of each other and are hard to compare as definitions vary. For example, some states or districts might count 9th-12 graders where some only count 10th-12th graders. This would automatically be skewed since many dropout in the ninth grade, and some even sooner.

There are several important indicators that suggest a higher likelihood that a student might drop out of school. According to the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, who will host its national conference in Atlanta in NovemberNational Family Literacy Month. Those indicators include:
* Poor attendance
* Low grade point average
* Low standardized test composite scores
* Number of grade retentions
* Number of discipline referrals
* Educational level of parent
* Special program placement
* Free/reduced lunch program
* Number of school moves (transfers)
* Low reading and math scores
* Ethnic/gender distinctions
* Language spoken in the home
* Number of suspensions
* Interest in school
* Participation in extracurricular activities
* Pregnancy/teen parent
* Number of counseling referrals
* Family status (single parent family, family size)

Some studies also suggest that environment and school size can contribute to the drop out rates. Some factors cannot be immediately changed such as family status, educational level of parent, ethnic/gender trends. However, we can have impact in a number of areas. We will just look a few in this article.


Attendance has become such an area of concern that September has been designated as National Attendance Awareness Month. Chronic absenteeism can be defined as missing 20 days or being absent ten percent or more of school days. By schools analyzing their attendance patterns more intently, some have been able to adopt strategies that identify areas for change and have improved their records. Some schools personalized interventions by helping to establish and build relationships with staff and students that increased expectations and support systems. Others allowed parents to respond to attendance, behavior or curriculum issues on-line to reduce the need for them to have to take off work to come up to the school. This alternative has shown to increase parent involvement and engagement.

    Low Reading Scores

Statistics show that students who are not reading at grade level by the end of the third grade are more likely to drop out later. According to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2011 Nation’s Report Card, there was a 25 point gap in White-Black average reading scores for 4th and 8th graders.  When students are not prepared to continue with the higher-level challenges, they slowly lose interest in school and develop self-esteem issues that impact their belief that they can do it. They often become embarrassed by not knowing the answers and afraid of their peers ridiculing them. Sometimes, students are continually passed on despite the fact that they are not prepared for the next level which can slow them down even more. Ninth grade has become the most crucial grade where many students drop out! However, the ground work for that act is likely set long before then.

Early Literacy

The Achievement Gaps have been shown to appear prior to children even starting school. This shows how important early literacy and family engagement is for lifelong learning. This summer, Governor Pat Quinn signed a new law that lowers the compulsory school age for students in Illinois in order to ensure all children have the opportunity to build a solid foundation for academic achievement. Governor Quinn believes the law, which goes into effect July 1, 2014, “will also help to combat truancy. Research shows that children who start school at an earlier age are less likely to drop out of school, be placed in special education or commit crimes, and more likely to attend college.”

1. Parents are the first educators and help to stimulate communication and important brain development which occurs early. 2. Early quality education is even more important for parents working multiple job and perhaps are not able to provide some of the at-home training that boosts skills and interests in learning. Low-income students tend to show the lowest proficiency in reading which can lead to a life-long prediction of problems vs. a life-long learning experience. 3. Investing in our students early is worth promoting more positive outcomes instead of paying for prisons, drug rehabs, health care, Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Programs (SNAP) that are increased for students who drop out. 4. Our productivity loss as a country also increases when each child loses out on realizing his/her potential!


Center for Public Education points out that it takes more than just knowing indicators that suggest higher probability for students to drop out because those indicators do not identify which ones will or will not. “Cohorts” provides more detailing information by tracking students “grade to grade as members of a “cohort”—a group of students who start out in the same grade at the same time.”

    Civic Marshall Plan

America’s Promise Alliance outlines the Civic Marshall Plan to increase graduation rates which includes 5 key evidence-based components each at the elementary/middle and high school levels”.

I. Elementary/Middle School Goals: Increase on-grade level reading by 4th grade; Reduce chronic absenteeism; Monitor early warning indicators; Better design middle school to promote engagement and rigor preparation; Adult/Peer Support with wrap-around services as needed.

II. High School Goals: Transition Support especially for 8-10 graders from schools with graduation rates under 75%; Transform Dropout factories; Raise Compulsory School Age to 18 everywhere. (Our state of Kentucky recently passed Senate Bill 97 to raise our dropout age to 18.); Provide every child access to Career and College Ready paths-even dropouts; Dropout Recovery support.

We must collaborate with schools, families and communities to help to reduce this national epidemic! “No Child Left Behind”, is not just a reform needing “reauthorization”, but it is a real goal of which we should never lose sight.

Related articles/links:

About Bren Martin

Brenda is an education advocate and has been an active leader in the schools, church and community. She is a National PTA Social Media Ambassador and was a Panelist on NBC's Education Nation in New York City, "Stepping Up: The Power of a Parent Advocate," for Parenting Magazine. Brenda was honored by the U. S. Department of Education and the White House as a “Champion of Change” for educational advocacy. She is Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress-Kentucky delegate and a recipient of Knowledge Universe-KinderCare’s Education Achievement Award! (See Parenting Magazine’s, “The Power and Potential of Parent Advocates,“ and one of Brenda’s articles, “Changing Us, Changes Them.“) Some of her services include: District PTA President and State PTA Board; Education Commissioner's Steering Committee for Teacher Effectiveness. She is a former regional President, Gifted Education; Summer Camp Creator/Director; Church Youth Director; Vacation Bible School Director; Prichard Committee’s Commonwealth of Institute for Parent Leadership (CIPL) Fellow; School Based Decision Making; Employability Skills Consultant to prison & colleges; Television Special host and more. Also, Follow Brenda on Twitter @bdrumartin. Disclaimer: Use sites, blogs, information or links at your own risk.
This entry was posted in Achievement Gap, Diversity, Emerging Minority Leadership, Grad Nation Summit, Graduation Rates, Legislative Hearings, National Family Literacy Month, PTA, School to Prison Pipeline and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Increasing Graduation Rates

  1. Just watched interesting webinar on “Rural Dropout Prevention” and will write a blog soon Also, see related prior conversation based on blog I wrote for NBC’s Education Nation on Rural Education:


  2. Pingback: Early Childhood Education | Debate and Switch's Blog

  3. Pingback: The Most Important Education Reform: Reducing Absenteeism | Kinvolved

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