3 Strategies to Improve High School Graduation Rates

When we think of educational progress for students, we think in terms of achieving specific goals: ACT/SAT scores, high school diplomas, and college admission. While the ultimate goal for educators is producing successful, productive citizens, these markers of success are widely considered critical stepping stones along that path.

High school graduation is a standard marker of success for young adults and an important measure of the health of a school system. Not graduating from high school has a cost to the individual student, an average of $10,000 per year in earnings, and a cost to society in both lost tax revenue over time and an increased likelihood to become incarcerated during their adult years. This is why all stakeholders, from parents to politicians, universally support increasing graduation rates. With individualized student plans rooted in relevance in learning and focused on future goals, students will be more likely to successfully walk across the graduation stage.

To make the connection to why these are the solutions for increasing graduation rates, we must look to the root causes of why students drop out. Of course, several complex factors are involved, but primary risk factors include the following.

Depending on the research study, growing up in poverty increases by three to six times the likelihood that a student will drop out. Students with missing foundational skills are also at risk. As early as third grade, students can begin to disengage from school, and in most instances, these students are behind their peers academically. Finally, a belief that a diploma does not connect to future success impacts a student’s chance of graduating.

So, what can schools do? These three action steps will help schools move the needle in increasing their graduation rates.

1) An Individualized Plan . . .

Individualized learning plans (ILPs) can create opportunities for students to focus on areas of interest. These plans always include a career focus for the student. This is not a “track” that a student must stay on, but rather an option for reaching their goals. This path might lead to a technical certificate, a CTE pathway, an industry-recognized credential, or enrollment in a four-year college. The key to successful plans is that it is individualized for each student and based on their own interests and skills. This creates a belief for the student in their own success, which is hard for them to do if they don’t see the value of high school graduation. It also creates an environment in which specific classes become much more relevant to students.

2) . . . Rooted in Relevance for Students . . .

Students who struggle academically must see the relevance in what they are learning. This can be a hard connection to make in certain core classes in high school. Fortunately, CTE courses are a perfect solution for increasing graduation rates and relevance. Students who apply their learning through hands-on CTE courses can see the connection to their future and possible careers. Counselors and teachers can work in unison to use ILPs to create independent study courses that are specific and relevant to the students’ own plans for the future.

3) . . . Focused on the Future.

Students in poverty do not do this naturally, and this is typically through no fault of their own. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows us that if basic needs are not met in the present, planning for future needs is nearly impossible. Any student who has grown up in this mindset needs explicit instruction and intensive support on how to think about the future. Schools can create a system of future planning so students can fully understand the importance and relevance of their education. When students research the salaries and lifestyles that they want to have, they can connect these desires to the educational level that they need to reach. By creating these new mental models, students begin to see what their futures can be—and how high school graduation fits in as an essential step.

Since educators’ ultimate goal is a 100% graduation rate, we must have tools that support 100% of our students to make that happen. Tools like Choices360 create a systematic process for all students to develop plans for their future and to research careers. Since it includes data tracking and all the tools that teachers and students need to increase relevance for learning, all students are supported to cross the graduation stage and continue, successfully, into their postsecondary future.

Here at XAP, we believe that exploration lays the foundation for planning. That’s why we help school and district counseling leaders implement equitable programs and strategies to ensure that students graduate high school not only with a diploma but also with a plan.

To see how we can help you better support your students and drive state, district, and school initiatives with greater ease, transparency, and data, feel free to contact our specialists today!

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