More high schoolers are off track to graduate. Here’s how schools can help.

Original article written by Kalyn Belsha for Chalkbeat


More ninth graders fell off track to graduate last year as failing grades and absences stacked up, new data from a handful of states show. The data provide more evidence of the difficulties high schoolers have faced while learning during a pandemic. After the first full school year disrupted by COVID, many states saw lower graduation rates for the class of 2021. And since ninth grade success is considered a key predictor of whether a student will graduate on time, some educators are now worried about younger teens whose entire high school trajectories have been shaped by COVID.


“They can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Franciene Sabens, a counselor who’s noticed the ninth and 10th graders at her southern Illinois high school are struggling more than older students this year. “They’re trying to find their groove, and they haven’t had real, normal school in two years.” Many ninth graders had a tough transition to high school last school year without the support of in-person classes and after-school activities. Some fell behind in their virtual classes or while they were in quarantine, and are now struggling to make up missed credits. Others got overwhelmed as they tried to balance school with caring for younger siblings or other responsibilities.


Now, schools are trying to help younger high schoolers get back on track, from hiring staff specifically to work with struggling students to rethinking how students can make up failed classes. Some schools are getting more hands-on with advising or making small tweaks to get students the help they need during the school day. A key question being focusing on is: “As a teacher, what’s in my locus of control to change?” said Sarah Howard, who oversees Network for College Success’ coaching work.


That could look like surveying students about what worked, and what didn’t, after a lesson. It could also mean anticipating times in the school calendar where student motivation slumps — like when the weather is cold or there’s a long stretch without a holiday — and keeping that in mind when assigning work and setting deadlines. “I can think about, what’s the rhythm in my classroom that gives kids more space, more room, more flexibility,” Howard said.


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