Thursday, August 10, 2017

On Having the Lowest Graduation Rates

This recent article in my local paper tells us that our region is lowest in the province for graduation rates.


They worry that "Students who did graduate also took longer to do so than almost anywhere else." The graphic shows 68% finish after 4 years, and 81% after a fifth year (so, 13% stay for a victory lap). I share their concern that almost 20% aren't graduating, but not their concern about taking a fifth year. I commented there that I don't support that particular focus:
"I encouraged all my kids to do a fifth year of school - it's the last chance for a free education, and it gives them more time to take electives. I've always seen the drive to have kids finish in four years as just a cost-savings method at the expense of a well-rounded education. What's the educational benefit of pushing kids to finish faster?"
They claim,
"The board is reluctant to more strongly dissuade Grade 9 students from choosing academic studies over applied studies, even as students who start high school with unrealistic expectations fail to keep up and must later switch streams." 
They say that like it's a bad thing. Sure, it can be a challenge to work with students on material far outside their capabilities, but a public education is there for everyone to find, not just their talents, but also their limitations. Every student should have a right to try to stretch themselves to do work that's difficult because some actually make it after a few attempts at the higher levels. Nothing should dissuade them from trying all their options at this point in life.

The article continues,
"Dropping out of the university-oriented stream while in high school can be a bumpy, disillusioning transition, delaying or possibly derailing graduation."
So here's an easy fix: If they really want to speed things up, they could easily allow anything over a 40% in an academic-level course to count as a 50% in an applied-level course in grades 9 or 10. Then students can stay on track in the new stream without losing any credits. Typically the courses aren't so different at different levels that a weak mark in an academic stream grade 9 class can't allow a student to flourish in the applied stream grade 10 class the following year.

But what are they missing out on if they spend another year in school?? Some might get discouraged if it takes them longer to finish, but I feel like that's due to the stigma around the issue. If we stop suggesting that there's something wrong with taking five years to finish, then students might stop getting discouraged if they need another year.


They site demographic reasons for the 19% dropout rate - the populations of Old Order Mennonites in the area and a lower parent education rate on average in the region despite having two universities, RIM, and the Perimeter Institute in our midst.

But they also site Board practices. The local board's version of Growing Success, AER, stops teachers from giving late marks or zeros regardless that both are acceptable practices according to ministry documents. Once these practices were implemented, there was a marked shift in the tone of students, many of whom saw no reason to attempt the work in a timely fashion. Work habits went out the window as teachers scrambled to find other means of convincing students to make an effort. I couldn't find rates beyond 2014 to look for any actual correlation though.


I think it's great that they have re-engagement teachers. That can help get kids back on track, but I wonder if they'll still count in the stats. Another solution suggests,
"Longer term, the board intends to move away from the dedicated schools it operates for Grades 7 and 8. It is now persuaded that limiting transitions between schools helps students graduate."
I'm really curious what led them to that conclusion. One study found a correlation between fewer transitions and lower dropout rates, but they also found that the school regions with fewer transitions (K-6 and then 7-12) had much smaller schools. This could be a confound in that other studies they discussed found connection with teachers and an increased level of participation in highly visible activities to be related to low dropout rates and much more likely in smaller schools. So it's not necessarily fewer transition but smaller schools that might be the key. The problem with smaller schools, however, is that fewer electives can be offered.

If they really want to shake things up, though, they could look at the Finnish system, which has a 2% dropout rate. They have no stigma around how long it takes to complete the upper secondary years. After grade 9, the three years of schooling are no longer divided into grades, and many leave and come back without feeling behind.
They replaced "age-cohort-based grouping of students with a nonclass organizational system...not based on fixed classes or grades (previously called 10th, 11th, or 12th grades). Students thus have greater choice available to them in planning their studies in terms of both the content and the sequencing of their courses....The academic upper secondary stream typically takes three years to complete, but many stay for a fourth year. The curriculum documents, if I'm reading them correctly, have courses that run 38 hours each (instead of our 110 hours), but some elective courses can be shorter or longer.... Essentially, the courses that we offer are broken up into three shorter modules that make up separate courses. That makes sense to me because if a student doesn't understand one component of a subject area, it's just a matter of re-doing the unit rather than the entire subject. "
Any given class could have an age range from 16 to 21. So the board could add grade 9 to the middle schools, and then turn the high schools into this interesting system with shorter course modules and levels within some courses but nothing divided into age cohorts. It would be fascinating to see how that might pan out.


Owen Gray said...

During my time in the classroom I taught adults who returned to school to get a high school diploma, Marie. Generally, they were much better students as adults than they had been as kids. Extra time is a gift that can work to one's advantage. The educational system has been overtaken by the Cult of Efficiency.

Marie Snyder said...

I think you're right.