the long view

Study: Students who slip before they succeed still at risk later on

A chart from the report showing how students with very different high school trajectories can end up in the same place academically—at least on paper.

Not all high school graduates are created equally: Some had to make up ground after falling behind along the path to graduation day. Identifying those future graduates early could be key to getting them to succeed in college later, according to a new report.

The report, authored by researchers with the education nonprofit New Visions for Public Schools, tracked students in 75 New Visions-supported city schools through high school and into college. The report finds that students who graduate with a Regents diploma after years of struggling are much less likely to succeed in college than those students who have a history of good performance.

Schools tend to pay special attention to students with obvious obstacles to overcome, such as a disability or status as an English language learner. But students who have a couple of bad semesters in tenth grade and then earn passing grades in their junior year don’t always register as being “at risk” to their schools, the report concludes.

The report advocates for schools to expand the definition of an “at-risk” student to include any student who has experienced ups and downs—which are marked and reviewed according to a metric system detailed in the study that New Visions schools will continue to use. It also argues that school districts like New York City are pushing schools in this direction by emphasizing schools’ graduation rate as the main benchmark of success.

“We’re trying to take the conversation and say, every kid, whether high or low performing, is vulnerable but in a different way,” said Susan Fairchild, one of the report’s lead authors. “Our accountability structures don’t necessarily support schools. We’re moving in those direction, but our systems are really based on accumulation, not flow, not how kids actually come into the system.”

The system categorizes students into four groups—those “on track to college readiness,” “on track to graduation,” “almost on track,” and “off track”— and re-categorizes them at the end of each semester of high school. By senior year, a student could have scored highly early on, but later fallen to “almost on track.” His data would therefore look different than a student who has been “almost on track,” for the past three years.

Tracking students over time and cataloguing when and where they are on track and off track, as the study does, can help predict a student’s risk of dropping out of college, Fairchild said.

Kirsten Larson, the principal of Marble Hill School for International Studies, a small high school opened in the Bronx in 2002, said she has been tracking student performance over time from early on. Marble Hill is one of the New Visions schools now using this methodology.

Larson said she offers teachers professional development at least once a week to give them tools to address struggling students’ needs, particularly for those not certified to teach English as a second language. Close to a third of her students are English language learners. She also expects teachers to meet with each student to go over grades every quarter.

“We have students coming in without a lick of English, students who may be fluent but haven’t passed the NYSESLAT. We have every issue imaginable here. We have to really make sure that we individualize a program for them.”

For example, Marble Hill teachers assess each student’s math performance during a summer “bridge” orientation program, and will sometimes recommend a student who has already passed algebra in eighth grade take it again in ninth. And at the end of each grading period, the school holds “town hall” style meetings with each grade level to review grades and course requirements.

“We go over exactly what they need from freshman year on,” she said. “Even if they heard it once, we know they didn’t hear everything. Being able to ask questions and see examples and look at their own data makes it that much more relevant to them.”

The study’s recommendations join a growing fervor in policy circles over how to boost college readiness rates across the school system, which were dismally low when the city released the results of its first citywide metric system last year. Fairchild said more schools should adopt these strategies after taking a closer look at how their students perform over time.

“For every single student we look at their grades, and we know which students we need to target right away,” she said, referring to the state test that students take to show English proficiency. “They might have five people coming to talk to them, as opposed to be ignored or no one noticed.”

Beyond High School

Beyond dinosaurs and rocket ships: New Children’s Museum program aims to help neighborhood families

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis held a school fair this fall.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is largest children’s museum in the world, attracting visitors from across the country who shell out as much as $82 for a family of four.

But this gem sits in the midst of one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where just one in four adults has a college degree and nearly half of families with children live in poverty.

That’s why museum leaders decided that they needed to do more to help kids close to home, said Anthony Bridgeman, who runs community programs for the museum. Kids in the surrounding neighborhoods already get free admission but now the museum has launched a program called Mid-North Promise that aims to help neighborhood families further their education and achieve their goals.

Among the 33 families currently participating are a man who needed help finding a new school for his grandchildren, a mother who needed a job that would reimburse her college tuition and a woman who needed childcare so she could complete her pharmacy technician training. But the museum is particularly focused on one group: Teens who were part of the state’s 21st Century Scholars program, which provides qualified high school graduates with free tuition to Indiana colleges and universities.

“We have a very transitory neighborhood in general,” Bridgeman said. “I would like to see … more young people from our neighborhood engaged in seeing a future … a big, bright future that those folks say, ‘Hey, you know what, there’s something really good happening here, and I’m going to plant roots and stay in the neighborhood.’ “

neigh-club-map-updated
The neighborhoods served by Mid-North Promise.

Thousands of Indiana students have benefited from the lucrative 21st Century Scholars program but some eligible students don’t know about it. Others have struggled to meet application requirements.

The state reported last spring that the vast majority of students in the program were in danger of missing out on scholarships because they were not meeting new requirements, but Mid-North Promise staff are determined to make sure that eligible students in the neighborhoods around the museum are able to get the scholarships they deserve.

Caseworker Tremayne Horne is now working with 26 high schoolers who are eligible for the scholarships, including Stacia and Simone Clemons.

When the Clemons sisters signed up to become 21st Century Scholars in middle school, their mother Dennicka Kendall assumed they were set — stay out of trouble and keep a high GPA, and they would get the scholarship.

But when Horne met with the girls — Stacia is a senior and Simone is a junior at Crispus Attucks High School — he discovered that they were behind on meeting requirements such as personality tests that need to be completed and community service projects that must to be fulfilled.

“A lot of the requirements were kind of sent to me … later,” Kendall said. “I didn’t even know that they had so many requirements.”

Now that they’ve joined Mid-North Promise, Horne has helped both sisters get back on track toward earning the scholarship. He also is working with Stacia Clemons, a senior, on her plans for college and the future, helping her make sense of applications and financial aid deadlines as well helping her think through her decisions about where to apply.

When she and her mother got into an argument because Clemons was unsure what she wants to do for college or a career, it was Horne who she called.

“I was kind of freaking out,” Clemons said. “He made me feel a lot better.”

In addition to helping teens get 21st Century Scholarships, the Mid-North Promise program will also offer $2,500 scholarships for families, Bridgeman said.

The Mid-North Promise is currently funded by grants from the Lumina Foundation and Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and sponsored by Old National Bank. The museum is looking to raise nearly $4.6 million to support the program longterm. That includes $3 million for a scholarship fund and nearly $735,000 to pay for family education and caseworkers like Horne.

The program is modeled on efforts like the Kalamazoo Promise, which offer free college tuition to graduates of Kalamazoo public school. That program has spawned copy cats across the country in cities like Syracuse, New Haven and Detroit.

But while most Promise programs are focused on money for college, the museum is also working with parents to help achieve their goals.

Horne is helping Kendall, the Clemons’ mother, finish her college degree and prepare to buy a house, for example.

“A lot of people come to the program solely focused on their kids and how to basically make a better life for their kids,” Horne said. “For them to be able to sit down and go over their goals and how they want to better themselves, I think has really been a big impact for them.”

Deadline extended

More Tennessee Promise mentors needed in Shelby, 43 other counties

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Gov. Bill Haslam greets Nashville-area community college students to launch Tennessee Promise in 2014.

About half of Tennessee counties still need volunteers to mentor the record number of high school seniors who applied for the state’s tuition-free community college program, prompting the state to extend its deadline.

As of Tuesday, Shelby County had the greatest shortage and needed 509 more volunteers to serve as mentors for Tennessee Promise, the state’s pioneering program to get more students to attend in-state community or technical colleges. Home to the state’s largest school system, the Shelby County also had the most students apply: about 8,650.

In all, 44 of Tennessee’s 95 counties still need volunteers, although some, like Campbell County, need as few as one. Last Sunday’s deadline has been extended to Dec. 1 for volunteers in those counties to apply, according to a spokeswoman for TNAchieves, the nonprofit organization that coordinates the program.

Other counties had substantial surpluses in volunteers and have closed applications. Nashville’s Davidson County, for example, has a surplus of 296 volunteers.

Statewide, about 61,000 high school seniors have applied for Tennessee Promise. They’ll go through a nine-month process of qualifying that includes working with an adult mentor.

Research shows that mentor relationships help students not only enroll in college, but finish. On average, Tennessee Promise mentors spend about an hour a month working with up to seven students as they transition from high school to college, reminding them of important deadlines, encouraging them, and serving as a trusted resource. Mentors must be at least 21 years old and attend a one-hour training and two one-hour meetings with their students over the course of a year.

When Tennessee Promise launched in 2014, Tennessee became the nation’s first state to offer two years of community or technical college free of tuition and fees. Even as the state struggles with college preparedness, it’s seen a boost in college enrollment.