Thursday, November 20, 2008

Antioch targets dropouts

By Angela Patterson • THE TENNESSEAN • November 19, 2008 If you walk into Antioch High and some other Metro high schools after the 2:05 p.m. dismissal, you may see that, for some students, school's still in. Some students are participating in credit recovery, an after-school version of summer school in which students take compressed classes to gain credits for classes they have failed. It's just one of the strategies Metro principals are using to increase their graduation rates. Data from the 2008 School Report Card, a study released by the Tennessee Department of Education, shows that some Metro high schools had as few as 65 percent of seniors receive a diploma in May 2008, a far cry from the state's graduation rate goal of 90 percent. Principals hope that a combination of student tracking, intervention and instruction will not only make sure students graduate on time, but they're prepared for life after high school when they do. Most of the tactics principals are using to increase graduation rates are the same methods used to achieve No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards, because when students are making progress in the classroom year after year, it moves them closer to on-time graduation. Academic coaches added Antioch High School Principal Aimee Wyatt said moving to an alternating block schedule so students can earn eight credits a year instead of six and offering intervention courses to help struggling students will help raise their NCLB standing. It should also indirectly help students acquire the credits they need to graduate. "We've added a literacy coach and math coach to work with teachers and students," said Wyatt said, whose school has a 75 percent graduation rate. "Our AVID program concentrates on goal setting so students understand why they need to graduate and what they can do after high school. Our advisory program has also assisted with goal setting and giving students another adult with whom to form positive relationships." Other principals are also using administrative functions to help students finish school. Hunters Lane Principal Susan Kessler said her staff is developing individualized plans with a credit recovery component for students who are behind. Hillwood Principal Steve Chauncy has a graduation coach who monitors seniors' transcripts and credits to make sure they're on track, and helps them gain credits if they're not. Importance of tracking kids Overton Principal Shuler Pelham, whose school has a 79 percent graduation rate, said he's stressed the importance of tracking students' credits as well as their attendance. "You can have a student that's not attending. If you withdraw the student, he counts as a dropout, which negatively affects your graduation rate," Pelham said. "But if you locate the student and find he's at another school, then he's a transfer, which doesn't affect your graduation rate. "There's a real emphasis on tracking where the students are, and Nashville has a high mobility rate, so this is a chore." Pelham said in all the approaches taken to raise the graduation rate, there haven't been any that haven't worked at all. "But you do have to consider the effectiveness of some of your strategies versus the time it took to carry them out," Pelham said. "It's usually years down the line before you really see a payoff for some of these things." Transportation needs If they had unlimited resources, some principals know they'd invest in more costly methods to raise the graduation rate. Wyatt said they'd consider virtual school, a program in which students could enroll in courses Antioch High doesn't offer, or ones that conflict with their school schedule, allowing the students who fall behind to make up courses quickly and get feedback from the teacher in a more one-on-one setting. Pelham said additional transportation would have to be offered to take students home after afternoon tutoring. "We have (teachers and tutors) wanting to come after school, but many (students), especially those who are economically disadvantaged, don't have a way to get home if they stay," Pelham said. "Some students need more than what we can provide from 7:05-2:05 every day." But other principals would like to offer more opportunities to connect with positive role models. Chauncy said he wished he had more parental involvement as well as people in advisory roles at school. Kessler agreed, saying that students who do not graduate from school usually have become detached from the school experience somewhere along the way. "What we know about student success in school, we know that students need to feel that their work is valued," Kessler said. "(they need to know) that there is meaning to what they are learning by applying it to their lives both now and in the future, and they need to feel connected to school by having a meaningful relationship with an adult, a peer group, or activities. "We are working hard at Hunters Lane to ensure that all kids have that high level of connection to Hunters Lane. It is not only good for the graduation rate. It is good for kids."

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