Dropout warning signs show up early

EducDropoutStudy101309Just 108 Colorado schools account for 70 percent of all dropouts in the state, according to a new report conducted for the Colorado Graduates Initiative by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The study, titled “Understanding the Dropout Problem and Mobilizing to Meet the Graduation Challenge,” focused on five Colorado school districts, Adams 12, Aurora, Denver, Jefferson County and Pueblo City.

The report found that behavioral factors such as absenteeism, failing grades and bad behavior are stronger indicators of the likelihood of dropping out than are traditional demographic factors such as ethnicity and family income. Johns Hopkins researchers have been in the forefront of work on behavioral factors and how they surface in middle school and at the beginning of high school.

The five districts were invited to participate because they’re among the largest in the state and have some of the highest numbers of dropouts. The study looked at 2006-07 dropouts.

Among the findings:

  • More than three of four dropouts had failed one or more semester classes in the 9th grade.
  • In four of the five districts, a large majority of dropouts had patterns of chronic absenteeism.
  • Nearly half of dropouts in four of five districts had been suspended at least once in the previous four years.

The study also examined students who were 9th graders in 2003-04 and so could have dropped out between 2003 and 2007. For those students, researchers found that the percentage of students who graduated on time declined noticeably with each semester class failure in 9th grade, and only 22 to 29 percent of students with one or more failures graduated on time.

“It’s a slippery slope. Even one semester course failure means a student is less likely to graduate on time from high school,” Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, in a statement. The Campaign and Colorado Youth for Change and the Partnership for Families and Children are partners in the Colorado Graduates Initiative. The study was paid for by the Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations.

Risk indicators also were found among middle school students in the five districts. “A third of 6th grade students are exhibiting at least one of the early warning indicators (poor attendance, behavior problems, course failure) in two of the districts, and as many as half appear to be at risk in another district,” according to the study’s executive summary.

The Initiative hopes that the report, by more closely identifying where the dropout problem is concentrated, will make it easier to identify and serve potential dropouts with successful interventions designed to reduce the number of failing students, decrease absenteeism and provide help to at-risk middle school students.

The report calls on districts to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of existing policies and interventions, build agreement among administrators and faculty on use of research-based practices to reduce the dropout rate and to create schoolwide programs and support structures to implement such practices.

Colorado Department of Education dropout statistics for the 2007-08 school year reported that 15,524 students dropped out in grades 7 through 12, 3.8 percent on a base of 411,439 students.

Eleven districts had more than 300 dropouts each that year, for a total of 9,674, or 62 percent of all dropouts. They were:

  • Adams 12 – 902, 4.6 percent
  • Aurora – 1,424, 8.2 percent
  • Cherry Creek – 749, 2.9 percent
  • Colorado Springs 11 – 657, 4 percent
  • Denver – 2,591, 7.4 percent
  • Greeley – 346, 3.9 percent
  • Jefferson County – 1,430, 3.2 percent
  • Mesa 51 – 474, 4.3 percent
  • Poudre – 347, 2.6 percent
  • Pueblo City – 435, 4.7 percent
  • St. Vrain – 319, 3.7 percent

(The tiny Vilas district in southeastern Colorado reported 1,802 dropouts, or 19.2 percent. That’s because Vilas runs an extensive online program used by many students who live elsewhere.)

The Initiative will release two related reports, on rural and on female dropouts, Friday at the Colorado Dropouts Summit for School District Leaders, co-hosted by Governor Bill Ritter, America’s Promise, State Farm and the Initiative. The event will be at Arvada High School.

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Disclosure: The Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations are among the sponsors of Education News Colorado.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.