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Dropout Prevention Solutions

The starting place is using our SDUSD data systems to identify students who show early signs of needing intensive extra support. We are expanding our portfolio of interventions for those students. Our priority is to strengthen and replicate our most engaging middle and high school programs as well as to create new options to meet diverse student needs and interests.

Early warning systems

Students losing ground are at particular risk as they enter 9th grade.

As a recent national report from Achieve, Inc., points out, we can do a much better job predicting which students are most likely to drop out. An ongoing study in Philadelphia can now identify half of all eventual high school dropouts as early as 6th grade. A group of Chicago researchers can predict 85 percent of eventual dropouts in that city's public school system based on just a few facts about the system's 9th graders.

Among the clearest findings is that we need to pay attention to transition points-the times when students move into middle and high school. Those losing ground are particularly at risk during these transitions. We know that students who finish 3rd grade without being proficient readers tend to be at risk.

SDUSD is moving to set up an early warning system focused on these pivotal grades and on risk factors shown to be key: chronic absenteeism, poor grades, behavior problems, and grade retention. It's also clear, however, that the exact pathway to dropping out differs in different communities. To be effective, then, the system requires conducting an analysis to determine the most powerful predictors of dropping out in SDUSD.

We need to ask, for example, how decisive is the transition to 6th grade in SDUSD? To 9th grade? Do 8th grade test scores predict which students will stay on track in 9th grade? Are similar students entering 9th grade more likely to stay on track in some high schools than others?

Targeted interventions

Once high-risk students are identified, it's critical to intervene with multiple kinds of academic and personal support. SDUSD has initiated a cluster of efforts designed to help students get back on track and graduate. These include:

Credit Recovery Program. Designed to help students stay in school and graduate on time, credit recovery provides instructional support and intervention for students in grades 9-12 who have earned a "D" or "F" so that they can recover credit in a given subject. SDUSD has 16 credit recovery laboratories and two innovation centers, each staffed by a specially-trained a certified teacher. Supported by the teacher, students work independently in standards-based online instructional curricula in math, science, English, social sciences, world languages, and elective offerings.

Parent University. Offers classes to help parents spot school problems early. Parents of students at Title I schools receive tools to help their children with homework, reading, writing, study skills, and math. Classes are offered in parenting skills, behavioral management and child development, and many are also taught in Spanish.

High School Readiness Program. Currently offered at four middle schools, this program is intended to assist 8th grade students who have failed two or more of their core academic courses and have scored Below Basic or Far Below Basic on the California Standards Tests (CSTs) in English Language Arts and Mathematics. High School Readiness counselors work intensively with the students and coordinate academic and personal/social interventions.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). A major advance in school-wide discipline is the emphasis on school-wide systems of support that include proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments, both in the classroom and outside, but within the school setting (e.g., hallways, restrooms, etc.). Implemented in several district elementary schools, this program's goal is to prevent the development and intensifying of problem behaviors and maximize academic success for all students. PBIS uses a school-wide team approach, resulting in a decrease in office discipline referrals, an increase in instructional time, a decrease in administrator time spent on discipline issues, and an increase in perceived school safety.

Ensuring that school is relevant, engaging, and rigorous

The massive exodus from American high schools is not inevitable. Many students drop out due to difficult home or family circumstances. But recent research suggests that even for these students, dropping out also is highly related to how schools operate, how rigorous they are, and whether or not students see that school has real-world relevance.

Expanding multiple pathways in high school. Construction Tech Academy and the Digital Media Design program at the Kearny High School Complex are examples of the multiple pathways approach. It combines challenging academics with career-focused, real-world projects and internships in fields that speak to students' passions. Students get excited about learning, and they get instant answers to the age-old student question, "Why do I need to know this?" Academic excellence and career-technical learning both flourish, preparing students for the ever more demanding requirements of the 21st century.

San Diego Unified is now moving to create a system of such pathways district-wide, in partnership with San Diego's most prevalent industries. Our College, Career, and Technical Education center is leading the multiple pathways expansion.

Creating new options tailored to student needs. Besides improving the rigor and relevance of regular high school programs, San Diego Unified is expanding its portfolio of options uniquely tailored to meet the range of special student needs. Notable among the newest options are:

East Village (Alternative High School). Some students who've all but given up on regular school tune back in if they find they can go to high school on a community college campus. Following the success of our award-winning small high school located on a college campus, the Met School at San Diego Mesa College, SDUSD opened a new Middle College High School in the fall of 2008 at San Diego City College. Its program is allowing students to directly experience college expectations and workloads in a rigorous yet supportive program.

iHigh Virtual Academy (iHVA) is an online, independent study school, providing a rigorous, college-preparatory program of accredited online courses and resources for grades 9-12. iHVA accepts full-time students from inside the district and beyond. Students need to be reading at grade level, self-motivated, self-directed and able to manage their time. Full time iHVA students have 24/7/365 access to courses with a district-issued loaner laptop and free Internet.