Supporting pupils in primary school may help keep them in education

Elementary (primary) pupils who participated in a comprehensive support intervention in the Boston public school district are less likely to drop out of high school (secondary school) than pupils not in the intervention, according to a new study published in AERA Open.

Terrence K Lee-St. John and colleagues examined the impact of City Connects – a schoolwide systemic pupil support programme which provides extra academic and social support for pupils in poverty – on high school drop-out rates. Their study tracked pupils from six elementary (primary) schools who participated in the intervention from kindergarten until fifth grade (Years 1 to 6). These pupils were compared to pupils who were enrolled in the school district at the same time but didn’t use the intervention programme.

In each participating school, a full-time coordinator, who is a master’s degree-level licensed school counsellor or social worker, meets with every classroom teacher and other school staff to review every pupil, every year. The coordinator and staff discuss each child’s strengths and needs for academic, social/emotional/behavioural development, health, and family support. Since not every factor that may influence later drop-out presents itself as a “red flag”, this approach allows the less obvious factors to be identified and addressed early.

The study found that pupils who participated in the intervention had a 9.2% drop-out rate in high school, compared to 16.6% for the non-intervention pupils.

Source: The long-term impact of systemic student support in elementary school: Reducing high school dropout (October 2018), AERA Open, Volume: 4 issue: 4

Effects of the Whole School Restorative Justice Program

Restorative approaches are practices aimed at making peace, preventing further harm and building community. The Whole School Restorative Justice Program (WSRJ) is designed to promote these practices in the school setting. It uses multi-level strategies to provide an alternative to zero-tolerance approaches, which have raised suspension rates in the US, especially among minority youth. Tier 1 is regular classroom circles, Tier 2 is repair harm/conflict circles, and Tier 3 includes mediation, family group conferencing and welcome/re-entry circles to initiate successful re-integration of pupils being released from juvenile detention centres.

A three-year matched study compared schools in California participating in WSRJ to similar schools that did not. In WSRJ schools, suspensions were cut in half (34% to 14%). This was significantly more than the change seen in non-RJ schools (p<.05). Chronic absences diminished in WSRJ middle and high schools, while increasing in non-WSRJ middle and high schools. The middle school differences were highly significant (p<.001). Reading levels for pupils in ninth grade (Year 10) increased more in WSRJ schools than in non-WSRJ schools, and four-year graduation rates gained significantly more.

Source: Restorative Justice in Oakland schools implementation and impacts: An effective strategy to reduce radically disproportionate discipline, suspensions and improve academic outcomes (September 2014), US Department of Education

Two behaviours linked to dropout rates in high school

A study published in the Journal of School Health examines how two behaviours – aggression and poor study skills – may be a factor in why some pupils do not finish high school.

Pamela Orpinas and colleagues randomly selected 620 sixth-grade (Year 7) pupils from northeast Georgia schools. Teachers completed a behaviour rating scale for these pupils every year from grades six to twelve (Year 7 to Year 13). Based on teacher ratings, the pupils were categorised into low, medium and high aggression trajectories from middle to high school and into five study skills groups (low, average-low, decreasing, increasing and high).  Examples of behaviours considered to be aggressive were threatening to hurt, hitting, bullying and teasing others. Examples of study skills were doing extra credit work, being well organised, completing homework, working hard and reading assigned chapters. Participants in the study were classed as a dropout if they were not enrolled in school and had not obtained a high school diploma by the end of the spring term in grade 12 (Year 13).

Pupils who were identified in the high-aggression/low-study-skills group had a 50% dropout rate compared to pupils with low aggression and high study skills who had a dropout rate of less than 2%. The results highlight the importance of early interventions that combine academic enhancement and behavioural management for reducing school dropout rates.

Source: Longitudinal examination of aggression and study skills From middle to high school: Implications for dropout prevention (February 2018), Journal of School Health Volume 88, issue 3

New WWC practice guide on preventing dropout in secondary schools

The What Works Clearinghouse has released a new practice guide, Preventing Dropout in Secondary Schools , that offers research-based recommendations for reducing dropout rates in middle and secondary schools. The goal is to help educators and administrators learn strategies for identifying at-risk pupils and addressing the challenges they face.

The WWC and an expert panel chaired by Russell Rumberger from the University of California, Santa Barbara synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following four recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Monitor the progress of all pupils, and proactively intervene when pupils show early signs of attendance, behaviour, or academic problems (minimal evidence).
  • Provide intensive, individualised support to pupils who have fallen off track and face significant challenges to success (moderate evidence).
  • Engage pupils by offering curricula and programmes that connect schoolwork with college and career success and that improve pupils’ capacity to manage challenges in and out of school (strong evidence).
  • For schools with many at-risk pupils, create small, personalised communities to facilitate monitoring and support (moderate evidence).

Each recommendation provides specific, actionable strategies; examples of how to implement the recommended practices in schools; advice on how to overcome potential obstacles; and a description of the supporting evidence.

Source: Preventing dropout in secondary schools U.S. (September 2017), What Works Clearing House, Institute of Education Sciences Practice Guide

Early warning indicators for risk of dropout among EALs

School districts in the US are using early warning indicators such as attendance, grade point average and suspensions or expulsions to identify and provide support for pupils at risk of dropping out. A new report prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences in the US examines whether these early warning indicators work just as well for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).

The study compares data for pupils in six school districts in Washington State who were classified as EAL at any point in their education (n=2,652) with data for non-EAL pupils (n=6,943). Pupils were identified as at risk of dropout if they triggered one or both early warning indicators – six or more absences plus at least one course failure in grade 9 (Year 10), or at least one expulsion in grade 9. The results show that early warning indicators are unable to accurately identify future dropouts. Overall, 23.8% of pupils triggered one or both early warning indicators, with EAL pupils triggering one or both early warning indicators only slightly more (24.2%) than non-EAL pupils (23.6%). These percentages are substantially higher than the percentage of pupils who actually dropped out (all pupils = 5.4%; EAL pupils = 5.9%; non-EAL pupils = 5.2%). Only 9.2% of EALs who were identified in grade 9 as at risk dropped out.

Source: Are two commonly used early warning indicators accurate predictors of dropout for English learner students? Evidence from six districts in Washington state (March 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest.

Applied STEM improves outcomes for secondary pupils with learning disabilities

Studying an applied STEM course could help pupils with learning disabilities (LD) complete secondary school and transition successfully to higher education, according to a US study published in Educational Policy.

Pupils with learning disabilities face significant academic challenges in secondary school, as well as greater risks of dropping out altogether. Studying courses like applied STEM, which focus on applying maths and science skills more directly to practical job experiences, may help them to make the connection between learning and opportunities beyond secondary school, and to see the importance of continuing with their studies.

In order to examine the role applied STEM might have in improving outcomes for LD pupils, Jay Stratte Plasman and Michael A Gottfried analysed data from the US Department of Education to see if there was any link between studying applied STEM and dropout. While pupils generally appeared to benefit from studying applied STEM, the advantages were greater for those with learning disabilities. They calculated a two percent dropout rate for LD pupils who study applied STEM versus 12 percent for LD pupils who do not. Their analysis also demonstrated that LD pupils who study applied STEM are 2.35 times more likely to enrol in college immediately after secondary school, and 2.23 times more likely to go to college two years after completing secondary school, than LD pupils who did not study applied STEM.

Source: Applied STEM coursework, high school dropout rates, and students with learning disabilities (October 2016), Educational Policy