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New Study Reviews 25 Years Of Research Into What Helps Students Graduate – Here’s What They Found

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Paul Bruno tweeted out a link to an important new study (that is, unfortunately, behind a paywall) titled Factors that Promote High School Graduation: a Review of the Literature, by Jonathan F. Zaff, Alice Donlan, Aaron Gunning, Sara E. Anderson, Elana McDermott, Michelle Sedaca.

I read it, and here’s my summary:

First off, I’d strongly recommend this study be read side-by-side with last year’s report by American’s Promise Alliance, which examined why students drop-out (see New Survey On High School Drop-Outs Is Depressing, If Accurate). I think both studies complement each other – with this new one focused on what helps students stay, while the earlier one targets why they drop-out. They’re similar in many ways and different in a few others.

This new report reviewed:

research from the past 25 years on high school graduation, focusing on longitudinal, US-based studies of malleable factors that predict graduation. Through this systematic search, we identified 12 assets in individual, family, school, peer, and community contexts, which predict high school graduation…

I don’t think anyone is going to be too surprised by what they found.  I’m listing them in the order they are discussed in the study.  However, I don’t believe the researchers list them in order of importance.  I might be wrong on that, but I can’t find anything in the article that suggests there was a strategic plan for what was discussed at the beginning, middle and end:

1. Student motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation: No big surprise to me, especially since I’ve written three books on the topic. Also, see  Best Posts On “Motivating” Students.

2. Student engagement: They identify it as “behavioral (e.g., attending class, completing assignments), emotional (e.g., identification with school, liking school), and/or cognitive (e.g., taking a strategic approach to learning, intellectual curiosity).” See The Best Posts & Articles On Student Engagement.

3. Youth expectations for “attainment”: In other words, do they expect that they are going to college. See The Best Resources For Showing Students Why They Should Continue Their Academic Career.

4. Do students feel that they are in control of their own destiny: “Youth who believe they control their academic outcomes (i.e., internal locus of control) tend to do better in school and persist when they encounter difficulties.” This reminded me of Maria Konnikova’s recent article in The New Yorker where see writes that resilient people see themselves as “the orchestrators of their own fates.” It may also speak to the importance of maximizing the use of choice – see The Best Posts & Articles About Providing Students With Choices.

5. “Parental Academic Involvement”: This includes both parents helping with homework or talking with their kids about school at home, as well as participating in activities at the school itself. See my fifty “Best” lists related to parent engagement here.

6. “Parent-Child Connection”: Do the parents and their children communicate well and regularly with each other?

7. “Positive Peer Norms”: Are students hanging-out with friends who are more likely to graduate or drop-out?

8. “Positive Student-Teacher Relationships”: See The Best Resources On The Importance Of Building Positive Relationships With Students.

9. “Small Schools”: I think big schools can apply this idea through developing Small Learning Communities, as we have done in our school. See The Best Resources For Learning About Small Learning Communities.

10. Participation in School-Based Extracurricular Activities

11. Career and Technical Education opportunities

12: Access To Community-Based “out-of-school” activities like Outward Bound

Obviously, some of those factors are outside of the teacher and school’s control, but we can impact quite a few of them.

What do you think?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. I agree with the information presented. But I do believe the list should be expanded to include race and socio-economic status. As it states in Russell W. Rumberger’s Dropping Out of Middle School: A multilevel Analysis of Students and Schools, it uses a few of the reasons on thelist above in association with why students do not stay in school. Granted this article is older than your post, at the time of its publication, dropout rates for White youth was 8%, for African American youth was 14%, and for Hispanic youth was 29%. Also the article talks about schools located in some urban locations can be as high as 40%.

    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Russell_Rumberger/publication/44819580_Dropping_Out_of_Middle_School_A_Multilevel_Analysis_of_Students_and_Schools/links/0a85e53500aab8be3c000000.pdf

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