Strategies to improve retention and graduation rates in secondary schools, with a focus on career and academic planning
Secondary school should be a place for students to explore, learn, and deepen their understanding of themselves and their place in the world in a safe and supportive environment. The teenage years are characterized by a growing sense of independence and a desire for autonomy combined with a greater willingness to take risks. This requires a kind of balancing act by the caring adults in their lives. Schools have an integral role to play to improve retention and graduation rates as students are developing attitudes and abilities that lead them to meaningful lives based on their own needs, desires, and dreams.
Schools that adopt an equitable practice to diverse learning styles and skill sets foster an inclusive approach to education. By aligning this approach with academic and career planning efforts, schools can better engage every learner. This contributes to a culture of respect across the learning environment and broadens the conversation around post-secondary planning, making it more meaningful and relevant to more students. Students actively engaged in their educational goals and career planning are more motivated to stay in school and are better prepared for life after high school.
Using individual learning plans (ILPs) throughout the secondary school years is an effective way to support educational decision-making and career planning and has the potential to positively influence student experience in several domains, including:
- Quality learning and heightened engagement
- Goal setting
- Academic self-efficiency
- Greater motivation to attend school
- Meaningful relationship-based practice
- Social-emotional wellbeing
Quality ILP implementation, when delivered from a strength-based perspective by a caring and encouraging adult, enables learners to establish career and life goals. Setting goals that are relevant to personally lived experiences makes education more meaningful and becomes instrumental to achieving personal aspirations. As a result, learners are inspired to pursue a more rigorous education aligned with their interests and to explore work-based opportunities to enhance their experience. This is empowering, builds self-awareness, and provides opportunities to explore different options and find the right fit. Embracing the diversity of learning styles and interests within the student population that naturally exists in all schools will result in increased academic performance, heightened retention and graduation rates, and stronger overall life satisfaction.
Statistics and the reality on the ground that educators, school counselors, and administrators face every day
Graduation rates have been improving in the United States over the last decade. However, the challenges are still prevalent. With approximately 1 million students dropping out of high school in the United States each year, an average that hovers around 7,000 students every day, the need to improve retention and level the playing field for every student is crucial. A key to the solution requires an understanding of why students are dropping out in the first place.
The primary reasons cited by students include failing too many classes and being unable to keep up, being bored, caregiving and needing work to help support the family, and believing school to be irrelevant. Research mirrors these reasons while providing deeper context. The main contributing factors are socio-economic status, demographics, attendance/truancy, student engagement, and course failure.
Having a high school diploma is essential to financial success, with data suggesting that high school graduates, on average, earn $10,000 more per year than non-graduates. The setbacks that these young people face and the lifelong consequences of the decision to drop out are substantial. Earning potential is significantly lowered, as is job opportunity because most jobs require at least a high school education. Many more demand some type of post-secondary education beyond a high school diploma.
Therefore, for non-graduates, periods of unemployment are much greater, posing economic, social, emotional, and health risks. Many of these students, approximately one-third, have not been promoted beyond the ninth grade. While this is a grave statistic, it also provides insight into how important it is to start interventions early, during the middle school years, and to target them to meet the needs of those students most at risk of dropping out.
Focusing on career and academic planning to engage and empower every student in order to improve retention and graduation rates in secondary schools
Education professionals and school counselors have increasingly challenging and dynamic jobs that require an array of resources, tactics, and support to reach the needs of every student in their purview. High-quality technology platforms can facilitate a tailored approach to individual educational needs using a series of built-in activities, including assessments, student tracking, curricular decision-making tools, and career planning features. Students can then carve out meaningful learning plans that have relevance to their personal goals. For example, Choices360 provides school counselors with a sophisticated, modern tool to help improve school and district performance, with the capacity to heighten graduation rates by way of focused, intentional student engagement.
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!