Governor Patrick has made closing the achievement gap a top priority of his Administration. Realizing that one of the most troubling achievement gaps is the one that exists between students who are in school and those who drop out of school, we have made identifying students who are at-risk of dropping out and giving them the supports they need to persist through school a key component of our education reform strategy.
Three years ago, the Massachusetts Graduation and Dropout Prevention and Recovery Commission, chaired by Secretary Reville, released a report called “Making the Connection.” This report offered a set of recommendations that has served as the foundation of our dropout prevention and recovery efforts and activities since that time.
Some of the Commission’s recommendations include:
- Increasing the number of alternative options available to help get students back on track to graduation;
- Building out an early indicator system to identify students at risk of dropping out;
- Amending state law regarding school exclusion, updating the dropout notification law, and closing loopholes that allow students under the age of 16 to leave school; and
- Securing resources to support the state and local efforts to lower the dropout rate and raise graduation rates.
Since the release of the report, there have been a number of exciting developments to further these goals and recommendations. With the help of federal, state and local partners we have secured federal funding to support our efforts to lower dropout rates; made a concerted effort to encourage sharing of information and best practices to help schools and districts target problematic dropout rates; and just this summer, saw legislation pass that that changes school discipline policies and removes archaic provisions from the law that allowed students to leave school prior to age 16.
Some of the specific initiatives underway to help identify students at risk of dropping out and provide them with the supports they need to stay in school include the development of new Innovation Schools. These schools, created by the Achievement Gap Act of 2010, give educators some additional autonomies and tools to meet the specific needs of their students and help them achieve success. Innovation Schools are being designed around an array of student needs. Some are specifically being designed to meet the needs of off-track or at-risk youth, like the Pathways Innovation School, a partnership between the Mahar Regional School District and Mount Wachusett Community College; and the Leominster Public Schools’ new school for 14-22 year olds offering both academic and therapeutic services to its students.
In 2010, we also announced Massachusetts’ selection as one of two states to receive a $15M High School Graduation Initiative Grant, (MassGrad for short) from the Obama Administration. All 133 high schools in MA with a dropout rate equivalent to or higher than the state average were eligible to apply for MassGrad grants. Grants were awarded in Spring 2011 and work in our schools and districts is underway to provide alternative pathways, additional supports and programs, like Gateway to College, in more regions of the state. In addition, all 133 high schools have been invited to participate in a MassGrad Dropout Prevention and Recovery Work Group that will offer trainings and other coordinating opportunities. If you work in a district and are interested in receiving the MassGrad e-newsletter (“MassGrad Minute”) and updates on the Work Group’s upcoming events, feel free to email Joeatta at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another important development in this work was just announced a few weeks ago when our colleagues at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) released the Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS). This data-driven system is designed to identify students from first grade though twelfth grade that are potentially "off-track" for grade-level or developmental age, including those students at-risk of dropping out of high school, so that additional supports can be deployed to those students to help them persist through school. Districts can access student-level risk information via the College and Career Readiness Dropbox in the ESE Security Portal. In addition, ESE is offering introductory webinars on the EWIS during the month of October. Please click here to register.
Over the next few months, I will keep you updated on this work and ways you can engage to join us in these efforts. Feel free to contact me at Marissa.Cole@massmail.state.ma.us with any questions about our ongoing efforts in this arena.