Denver Public Schools’ graduation increase is encouraging – but there’s still work to be done
Two years ago, the Donnell-Kay Foundation issued a report: “A Call to Action: Getting Denver Public Schools Students Back on Track to Graduation.” This report provided an initial analysis of students off-track to graduation and students who had already dropped out but were still eligible to return to school. Now, DK’s Associate Director Kim Knous-Dolan writes about how DPS is doing, 2 years later.
“A Call to Action” found that over 7,500 students in DPS high schools (approximately 42 percent) were off-track to graduation. In a recent presentation to the Denver School Board, the DPS administration reported there had been a slight decrease in the number of off-track students in DPS, with about 40 percent of students currently off-track to graduation.
And, today, the Colorado Department of Education reports that DPS’ on-time graduation rate increased significantly – up 4.3 points – to 56.1 percent. Similarly encouraging is that their dropout rates have decreased substantially, falling from 11.1 percent in 2006 to 6.4 percent in 2010” (Start with the Facts Report, A+ Denver, 2011).
This is all very positive news.
“A Call to Action” also gave a high-level overview of the quality of school options available for this group of students (often labeled “alternative schools,” but now referred to in Denver as “Intensive Pathways Schools”).
The report called on the district to conduct a deeper, ongoing analysis in an effort to better support early identification of struggling students, provide effective supports/interventions, and ensure high quality educational options for them to graduate with a meaningful diploma.
Specifically, it called upon DPS to do the following:
- Use data to understand the population and drive options;
- Create a portfolio of high quality school options;
- Ramp up prevention systems;
- Build capacity in high schools to get kids back on track;
- Expand outreach to re-engage youth; and
- Implement a meaningful 100 percent graduation policy
DPS has pursued many of the recommendations in the report, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. An important next step is to figure out why the graduation rate is increasing and why the dropout rate is falling. Then, DPS should invest in those strategies that are working.
DPS should be commended for its recent efforts to segment the student population based on academic need. In the most recent Strategic Regional Analysis (SRA) to the Board in fall 2011, DPS provides a detailed and thoughtful analysis of how off-track students’ schooling needs should be better aligned with district offerings.
Over the past few years, the district has also been integrating an early warning system into high schools (commonly referred to as the Stoplight Report) in an effort to flag students early in the process of falling off-track to graduation. Plus, there are several new school offerings and credit recovery options. It is still too early to say what success these schools and programs are having with students, but it is something to watch closely. And building partnerships with organizations such as Colorado Youth for a Change and City Year will help the district more effectively recover and serve dropouts and students off-track to graduation.
There’s still work to be done:
Although we are seeing positive trends in DPS with this population, there is still an immense amount of work to be done. Graduation rates must continue to dramatically improve and college remediation rates must drop. Getting to the state “on time” graduation average in the next few years (73.9 percent for 2010) would be a good short term goal, with a longer term goal of 100 percent graduation.
- DPS must improve policy and practice changes around this population of students, including:
- Adequately funding students through weighted student funding;
- Increasing attention to rigorous and fair accountability metrics;
- Having meaningful and strong instructional and leadership capacity building;
- Increasing proficiency-based pathways; and
- Implementing effective interventions.