FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Based upon the various presentations and Commission discussion, the Joint Legislative Commission on Dropout Prevention and High School Graduation makes the following findings:
§ Innovative and non-traditional high school designs strengthen the retention of students in schools and reduce failure rates. North Carolina high schools that implemented reform/redesign models showed improved performance on 2007-2008 End-of-Course tests.
§ At-risk students are less likely to drop out if they form an on-going relationship with a designated adult in the schools who consistently shows concern and provides personal attention in helping at-risk students address their academic or personal problems and assists them in staying on track for graduation.
§ Current law requires children to attend school between the ages of seven and 16. In 2006-2007, students aged 17 were the most frequent dropouts. The next highest age group of dropouts were students aged 18, followed by students aged 16.
§ A student’s successful transition to and positive academic progress in 9th Grade are pivotal factors in the likelihood that the student will be promoted to 10th Grade and will graduate in a timely manner.
§ In North Carolina in 2006-2007, students dropped out more frequently during 9th Grade than any other grade.
§ Student suspension rates in North Carolina have been on the rise in recent years and students who are suspended from school are three times more likely to drop out than other students.
§ The presence of the following risk factors increase a student’s likelihood of failing to complete their high school education: multiple tardies, poor attendance, lack of parent involvement and support, multiple suspensions, low grades and lack of academic success, and being a pregnant or parenting teen.
§ High-quality preschool programs are important to help at-risk students enter school healthy and ready to achieve high academic performance. Reading at grade level by Grade 3 is a key predictor of high school completion and early intervention programs that promote literacy in the early elementary years are important.
§ The Commission heard from the Committee on Dropout Prevention that the availability of Dropout Prevention Grants has stimulated significant interest across the State. Hundreds of groups, including local school systems, schools, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and colleges, have proposed a variety of innovative programs and initiatives. These proposals have been designed to address unique local needs, supplement local resources, and build upon collaborative efforts in order to keep students in school and on track for high school graduation. The Commission is hopeful that the planned evaluation of the funded proposals will identify successful practices that can be sustained locally and can be replicated in other locations.
§ The Commission finds that it is premature to develop a network for sharing best practices among grant recipients, the public schools and other interested organizations. The Commission recommends such a network be developed after there is data available from the grant recipients that documents practices that have proven to be successful in reducing the dropout rate and increasing the graduation rate. The Commission also encourages the Department of Public Instruction, as a part of its technical support to grant recipients, to assist in the development of this network.
§ Graduation rates should be a key factor used in accountability systems that measure and reward a school’s efforts to improve student academic performance and close achievement gaps.
§ The Commission finds that the percentage of North Carolina students who completed their high school education in four years or less in 2008 was slightly less than 70%. The Commission believes that aggressive goals which demonstrate continuous and substantial improvement from the prior year should be set to improve the current four year cohort graduation rate.
Therefore, the Commission makes the following recommendations to the 2009 General Assembly:
The General Assembly shall appropriate funds for the 11 Learn and Earn early college high schools that received a planning grant in the 2008-2009 fiscal year and are ready to begin operations in the 2009-2010 school year. (See LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL I)
The General Assembly shall appropriate funds for Communities in Schools of North Carolina, Inc. to place no fewer than 100 graduation coaches in either middle or high schools and give priority to schools that have a 4-year cohort graduation rate of less than 65%. (See LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL II)
The General Assembly shall direct the Board of Governors of The University of North Carolina, in conjunction with the Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, to direct the appropriate entity to study raising the compulsory attendance age for public school attendance prior to completion of a high school diploma from sixteen to seventeen or eighteen. At a minimum, the study shall examine other states that have raised the compulsory attendance age to determine all impacts, including the effect on the dropout rate and the fiscal impact. (See LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL III)
The General Assembly shall encourage local boards of education to adopt policies to encourage local businesses to adopt personnel policies to permit parents to attend student conferences, implement programs that assist students in making a successful transition between the middle school and high school years, increase parental involvement in student achievement, reduce suspension and expulsion rates and encourage academic progress during suspensions, and provide assistance and support to encourage pregnant and parenting students to graduate. (See LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL IV)
The General Assembly shall appropriate sufficient funds for Dropout Prevention Grants in the 2009 Session to continue some of the more successful initiatives and also to provide the opportunity for a new round of proposals to be funded.
The Commission strongly recommends the following:
· Prior to the 2009-2010 school year, the State Board of Education develop a growth model establishing annual goals for continuous and substantial improvement in the cohort graduation rate by local school administrative units.
· The State Board establish as a short term goal that local school administrative units meet the annual growth model goals for improvement in the cohort graduation rate beginning with the graduating class of 2010 and continuing annually thereafter.
· The State Board establish as a long-term goal a statewide four year cohort graduation rate of ninety percent by 2015.