Alabama makes progress in tackling high drop-out rate; efforts provide model for other states.
An impressive seven percent increase in graduation rates between 2002 and 2008, propelled by aggressive government leadership, a focus on teacher development, and a strong network of support systems, prompted America’s Promise Alliance to cite Alabama as a role model for other states fighting to overcome chronically high dropout rates.
Alabama’s progress in raising graduation rates from 62 percent in 2002 to 69 percent in 2008 was outlined in the report Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, released in December by America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. Alabama was one of 4 states recognized for significant progress and Deputy State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice was invited to a national summit to share Alabama’s strategies with others from across the country.
The report noted that Alabama’s graduation rate showed significant growth compared to the rest of the country and far surpassed the nation’s three percent growth rate during the same six-year period. America’s graduation rate increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008, but the report noted that concerted efforts are vital to prevent regression and continue the positive momentum.
According to the America’s Promise report, a review of Alabama’s progress showed that the commitment of Alabama’s leadership, including the Governor, the legislature, two state superintendents and the State Board of Education, to raising expectations for students and garnering stakeholder support was a difference-maker in forging the state’s success. In addition, it said a strong focus on teacher development and training, and on establishing a network of supports kept students on a path to graduation. As a result, in six years, Alabama reduced the number of schools with unacceptably high drop-out rates from 75 to 45. The report noted that during the time period analyzed in the report, Alabama achieved a 30 percent decrease in K-3 reading problems and the highest national gains in the National Assessment of Educational Progress on 4th grade reading in 2007.
The report noted that factors key to putting more Alabama students on track to earn their high school diplomas, are:
• Alabama Reading Initiative, the Alabama Math, Science & Technology Initiative, highly effective professional initiative programs for teachers that improve reading and math and science instruction.
• Establishment of graduation coaches in struggling high schools. Initially 25 coaches were hired and trained. Because of their effectiveness, local districts found funding to expand the program, resulting in 245 graduation coaches across the state.
* Competitive grants for 38 local districts to develop innovative approaches and to share best practices.
• Expansion of cross-sector public/private collaborations with a strong focus on building regional and local capacity to support school improvement.
• Efforts to make dropout prevention a statewide priority by raising standards and increasing the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 17.
• Statewide implementation of ACCESS Distance Learning, enabling students to take more than 100 courses in a blended on-line and video-conferencing system.
*New policies to allow students to on-line credit recovery, and establishment of recovery academies.
To accelerate progress, the Alabama Legislature established a commission to recommend policies and practices to raise state graduation rates.