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Advancing the “Colorado Graduates” Agenda

Advancing the “Colorado Graduates” Agenda

“About 30 percent of Colorado high school students don’t graduate. Less than half of the black, Latino and American Indian students who start high school in Colorado actually finish. Our goal: cut the drop-out rate in half within 10 years.” Governor Bill Ritter, Jr.

Executive Summary
The ambitious goal set by Colorado’s governor to address the state’s dropout problem is a model for the nation. Helping thousands of young people to receive their high school diplomas instead of leaving school without them is a crucial step in improving the quality of life for all Colorado residents.

Accomplishing this goal will require focused attention on dropout prevention, intervention, and recovery — particularly in the schools and districts with large numbers of dropouts. As researchers at Johns Hopkins University have pointed out in earlier publications, understanding the dropout problem in a community is an important first step in developing and implementing plans to reduce the number of dropouts and increase the graduation rate.

The research reported here was conducted as a foundational analysis for the work of the Colorado Graduates Initiative (CGI), a partnership of several education advocacy organizations and other non-profit organizations seeking to assure that districts and schools succeed in accomplishing the goal of cutting the state’s dropout rate in half within the next ten years. Created in January 2008, the current CGI partnership includes the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the Partnership for Families and Children (and the associated National Center for School Engagement), and Colorado Youth for a Change, together with representatives from the Colorado Department of Education, several Colorado school districts, and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools. Funding for this research was provided by the Donnell-Kay Foundation and the Piton Foundation.
This research focused first on the statewide distribution of dropouts, and then on five of the districts having some of the largest number of dropouts, using both aggregate school level data from the Colorado Department of Education and individual level data from each of the five districts.

In short, this report presents several keys to addressing Colorado’s graduation challenge:

  • We can locate where the dropout problem is concentrated in the state (by districts and schools).
  • We can identify which students are unlikely to graduate without interventions (through routinely collected district administrative data).
  • We have interventions that can keep students on track to on-time graduation.
Analyses of de-identified student level data indicated that the 2006-07 dropouts in each of the five districts were displaying behavioral warning signals several years prior to the dropout outcome. While not perfect predictors of a dropout outcome, these indicators distinguished dropouts from graduates rather dramatically.
Among the 2006-07 dropouts (with prior data) in the five districts:
  • More than three in four had failed one or more semester courses in ninth grade (compared to between one-fifth and one-third of graduates with the same indicator)
  • A large majority (in four of the five districts) displayed patterns of chronic absenteeism
  • Nearly half (in four of the five districts) had been suspended at least once during the previous four years (compared to about half as many among graduates)

A second set of analyses in three of the five districts examined outcomes for all ninth graders in 2003-04, whose on-time graduation year would have been 2007 (the “Class of 2007”). These students could have dropped out any time from 2003 to 2007. (By contrast, the dropouts of 2006-07 could have been from several different cohorts of ninth graders.) Among this 2003-04 cohort of ninth graders (Class of 2007) in the three districts:

  • The percentage of students with an on-time graduation outcome in 2007 declined steadily for each semester failure in ninth grade.
  • Just 22% to 29% of those with one or more semester failures graduated on time
Download the Full Report and Toolkit
Download the full Executive Summary, full Report, and Toolkit in pdf.

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