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Digging Deeper: Why Graduation Rates Don’t Tell the Whole Story

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Digging Deeper
“Digging Deeper” is a recurring feature at the Rodel blog where we take some data on Delaware public schools—and put it under the microscope. In the spirit of our Public Education at a Glance, we’ll present a straightforward look at the numbers, and search for some deeper meaning.

 

It may be stating the obvious, but a high school diploma is not the sole determinant of student success. Instead, we usually need to examine a student’s entire academic career—from kindergarten through 12th grade—to get a picture of how well prepared they are to pursue their interests after high school.

Likewise, disparities in academic achievement can offer insight into why low-income and minority students fall often behind their peers—and expose areas for intervention so all students have the best chance to pursue whichever options they choose after high school.

Diplomas matter, but higher educational attainment also has serious implications for students’ future.

Students of color and low-income students are more likely to miss the opportunities educational attainment brings. This includes higher earnings, lower unemployment rates, health benefits, and being more active citizens. However, without intervention, goals for increasing educational attainment are not likely to be reached, according to research by Complete College America and State Higher Education Executive Officers. The OECD also states that targeting inequities in education reform pays off in the form of better employment and more contribution to society and the economy.

The metrics below show that disparities in academic achievement appear as early as elementary and middle school and extend through high school and into college. By taking into consideration these other metrics, in addition to graduation rates, we will find opportunities for earlier intervention to improve the chances for success amongst students of color and low-income students in K-12.

Large achievement gaps exist between students of color and low-income students and their white and not low-income peers—some over 20 percentage points. These gaps persist throughout all grade levels.

Smarter Balanced and SAT scores reveal staggering disparities among minority and low-income students in both math and English Language Arts. Delaware students take Smarter Balanced in grades three through eight, allowing plenty of time for early identification of struggling students.

All 11th grade students in Delaware take the SAT during the school day, offering a good measure of which students are on track for graduation and postsecondary life. SAT proficiency—a term used to describe meeting or exceeding the standard on the math and reading SAT—is a predictor for college readiness.

Delaware graduation rates are fairly high—but so are remediation rates amongst minority and low-income students.

Despite a persistent disparity, the gaps in high school graduation between students of color and low-income students and their white, wealthier peers are closing. However, college remediation rates tell a different story—that many students of color and low-income students are not ready for academic life after high school. Remedial courses do not provide credits towards a degree, but still require students to pay tuition. Minority and disadvantaged students’ remediation rates are much higher than the state average.

Closing the Gap: Solutions for increasing educational attainment for students of color and low-income students

Disparities in educational achievement throughout K-12 can be rectified through targeted interventions.

  • Empower students earlier in their academic career to make informed decisions about their futures such as getting early college credit, enrolling in a career pathway, or gaining work-based learning and leadership experience.
  • Adequately prepare students for life after high school by ensuring they are gaining access to career and technical education courses, which provide a disproportionate benefit to low-income students who specialize in a specific trade, according to the Fordham Institute.
  • Provide targeted interventions before 11th grade for students not meeting college-ready benchmarks.
  • Create an equitable K-12 education system by addressing disparities in student achievement and access to opportunity.
    • Advocate for policy changes and pilot programs to support student-centered learning
    • Advocate for changes in the funding system, so that low-income and other disadvantaged students receive equitable funding.

 Other ways to get involved:

  • Start early. Advocate for policies to support third grade literacy. A child who reads on grade level by third grade
  • Employers and business owners can build partnerships with Delaware Pathways, where they can host students in work-based learning experiences and help inform the pathways curriculum.
  • Parents and community leaders can mentor on the SPARC platform.
  • Students can develop their Student Success Plan and do interest inventories, skills assessments, college searches, career searches, resume building, or interact with mentors and business leaders on the SPARC platform.

The Link Between Career/Technical Education and Student Success

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Investing in Education
It’s not just kids, parents, and teachers who feel the impact of our public schools. If you’re a citizen of Delaware, then you are—in one way or another—affected by our state’s education system. Check back regularly as we take a closer look at how When Students Succeed, We All Win.

 

Just one career and technical education course above the average can boost a student’s odds of graduating high school and enrolling in a two-year college, according to a study by the Fordham Institute. It can also lead to a higher likelihood of college enrollment, employment, and better wages.

So how are Delaware students accessing career and technical education courses?

Approximately 70 percent of Delaware students in grades nine through 12 take a CTE course. These classes are specifically sequenced and aligned to a specific career or industry. In recent years, Delaware Pathways has strengthened the sequencing of courses through the development of state-model pathways. These pathways provide students with high-quality education, training, and support services in high-demand areas in Delaware’s economy.

Students who complete a career pathway attain a high school diploma, earn an industry-recognized credential, certificate or license that holds value in the labor market, and a clear link to opportunities to complete an associate or bachelor’s degree program at a Delaware college or university. Currently, there are more than 6,000 students enrolled in 11 state-model programs of study.

We hope to continue to expand in the coming years to give students greater opportunities to prepare for college and career success. However, the greatest obstacle to developing a strong local workforce is a lack of systemic coordination across stakeholder groups. Delaware Pathways provides a platform for educators, institutions of higher education, policymakers, and business and community leaders to work together to improve opportunities for students.

There are plenty of ways to get involved in developing Delaware’s future workforce.

USA Fund Grant Could Ease Remediation Burden for Students

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Every August, college freshmen arrive on campus feeling nervous about finding their way in a sea of strangers. Add on the stress of financing a degree, and the first semester of college is no walk in the park. Imagine being told amidst this transition, that you are required to take a remedial course. The course costs money, and doesn’t count toward your degree. This is reality for about 42 percent of Delaware public high school graduates attending a Delaware public college or university, according to the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE). Discouraged and overwhelmed by the cost and additional coursework, students who require remediation are less likely to successfully complete a degree.

This week, Governor Markell announced a $250,000 grant from USA Funds that could help address this issue while students are still in high school. The grant will bring English and vocational teachers together with college faculty to develop a Foundations of College English course. Once the course is established, eleventh grade students who do not meet the PSAT or SAT benchmark for college readiness in ELA will be eligible to take the course, and upon completion become eligible to take college-level coursework in their senior year. Ultimately, the governor and DDOE are hopeful this program will increase students’ college readiness in ELA by the end of 11th grade and expand access to college-level coursework for high schoolers. A similar program, the Foundations of College Math course, was developed for math in 2014.

“Students who require remediation are delayed in earning industry credentials and a two or four-year degree that would prepare them for employment,” said Matt Burrows, superintendent of the Appoquinimink School District. Existing programs in Delaware high schools allow students to get a jumpstart on earning the credentials and education needed to be successful in a career. This includes over 5,000 participants in state-model programs of study launched last year through the Delaware Pathways initiative. For that reason, the Foundations of College English course will begin as a pilot in select high schools for students enrolled in the Allied Health pathway program. This pilot will serve as a model for statewide expansion.

At the announcement, USA Funds president Bill Hansen talked about the importance of building on the great work already underway to improve student success across the country. Delaware is continuing to develop ways to prepare our students for success after high school. Along with Delaware Pathways, the state has extended opportunities for all students to take the PSAT and SAT for free during the school day, expanded in-school supports for students in filling out college applications and the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and increased opportunities for students to gain college credit through AP and dual enrollment courses. The grant will help grow these successes and truly make Delaware a model for the nation.

 

Alyssa McGraw contributed to this blog.

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