6 Strategies That Will Increase High School Graduation Rates

by | Dec 7, 2021


About 25% of high school students in the U.S drop out before their graduation day and in lower-income communities, the number of high schools dropouts is even higher as many of the students don’t have enough support or resources to finish all four years. Most students returned to school for the first time this year and school leaders have noticed that the dropout rate has increased which may be attributed to school closure over the past 18 months. The COVID-19 crisis is ongoing with a lot of uncertainty about schools and transitioning back to virtual learning due to the new variant. This trend is forcing many schools to rethink their instructional programs and reimagining new pathways for students who are at risk of leaving school before graduation.

Monitoring Student Engagement Is Not Enough, But It’s A Step In the Right Direction

Fortunately for school leaders, students who are thinking about dropping out often exhibit behaviors that communicate their disengagement and their intentions to leave without obtaining a high school diploma. For many educators, it’s all about recognizing the early warning signs to proactively develop a plan to engage and excite the students about graduating from high school, college, and future career goals.

Some common signs that a student may be on the trajectory of leaving school early is when you notice students are not interested or engaged academically, consistently tardy, and disruptive during class.  And there are other signs that a student may not finish high school and these early warnings are difficult to recognize.  School leaders and teachers must be proactive and adopt a mindset of prevention and intervention in order to identify the early warning signs.

The early warning sign indicators are;

  • Examining tardiness and student performance
  • Administering pre-assessments to learn to identify the skills students have mastered and barriers that may exist which will prevent students from completing high school on time
  • Using exit tickets to determine whether students mastered the content taught
  • Inviting a school leader to conduct low inference observations and student engagement
  • Monitor homework completion rates, class participation, assessment results, and student engagement
  • Investing in Computer Adaptive Testing (CATs) to track critical thinking when students are being tested

If you are interested in learning more about how to monitor and proactively prevent students from dropping out of school, NCSL is an excellent resource.

Proactive and Prevention Strategies to Support At-Risk Students

Progress monitoring is an essential component to identify students who may be at risk of dropping out of school.  Educators must be prepared to provide students who are at-risk with learning pathways that will address their individual needs to ensure that they are on track to graduate.  We have identified six strategies that educators can implement and re-engage at-risk students.

  1. Establish Relationships with Students – First and foremost, educators must prioritize at-risk students and identify the barriers that need to be addressed. Teachers must create a collaborative partnership with at-risk students and actively listen to address their concerns, academic challenges, social and emotional barriers. When at-risk students are included and their voices are heard, the school environment then becomes a place where they feel safe and know that the educators are there to support and help them achieve success.
  2. Parent Engagement – Quite often parent engagement gradually diminishes when students transition to high school. However, adolescents need their parents to continue to be partners in their educational journey to support them through some of the challenges academically, socially, emotionally, and in peer relationships. When students know that their parents are engaged and supportive, they are more likely to communicate when challenges arise.  Educators must be intentional and communicate with high school parents on a regular basis, and parent-teacher conferences are usually a one-and-done interaction.  Parent engagement and effective communication are essential in order to prevent and proactively address the needs of students at risk.
  1. Help Cultivate Friendships – Sometimes the people that can help the most are high school students’ peers and friends. Putting small groups of students together along with a faculty member can be a great way for everyone to have a few people to go to if needed. Minimizing the number of students in a small group to create a safe space for students to open up to their peers and learn that they are not alone. It’s also easier for educators to track how each student feels and how they’re progressing in school.
  2. Make Education More Exciting – We know this can be a struggle, but it’s important that educators take the time to really learn about their students and what they find enjoyable and fun to learn. They won’t think everything is exciting but incorporating a curriculum or a class program with some of their hobbies and interests can help them engage more with their studies and courses. Read more about how important it is to set the right tone and establish a supportive foundation for students returning to school.
  3. College Prep Advisors – Many students worry that they aren’t ready for the next step of their education after isolating themselves for so long. Having advisors and counselors at the ready to help steer students towards graduation and college admission will lighten the load for many seniors and allow them to get the guidance they need.
  4. Adding Flexibility to Schedules and Assignments – One of the simplest ways to put students at ease right now is to allow for some flexibility when it comes to late assignments and testing. Dropping certain assignments, accepting late work, and reducing late penalties will help students feel more supported as they catch up on homework and class assignments.

Establishing Professional Development Among the Teachers

For educators to make these changes and tweaks in their lesson plans, many schools have invested in Professional Development, which provides frequent opportunities for teachers to reflect on their teachings, receive feedback from others, and learn evidence-based strategies to engage students in their studies. Creating these support systems can be done through workshops or through job-embedded professional development, which happens during classes and not just in workshops during the year. Workshops allow teachers to come together and focus on a specific skill set to implement in the classroom.

For schools wanting to take it a step further, job-imbedded professional development is where teachers get more hands-on intensive support with implementing new learning and refining current instructional strategies. During these sessions, schools can hire instructional coaches and mentors to sit in on classes and take note of student engagement and the teacher’s method of instructing in real-time.

Mentors can look at the curriculum and provide helpful feedback for teachers while keeping a watchful eye on how the students behave and participate in class. There are also state-sponsored online teacher communities where teachers can bring forth the issues, they’re having in their classroom in hopes that another teacher can provide guidance and support to address their professional growth.  One resource that we have found helpful about the importance of high-quality professional development provides support for teachers in the format of a professional learning community.

High School Students Need Support During This Crisis

There’s a long road ahead for schools to start seeing pre-pandemic data again as we inch our way to increasing high school graduation rates. Teachers and administrators have had to step up in ways we couldn’t imagine and while there’s no end in sight for the coronavirus, we know that their efforts and commitment to their student’s education and wellbeing is the reason why many high schoolers will get the opportunity to walk across the stage this year.



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