Lots of folks have documented the long odds to success for kids who enter high school far behind academically. We’ve been working with one of our districts on strategies for beating these odds through using resources to get kids who enter high school behind caught up. Recently we had interesting insights into investments in these students that are visible only by looking at performance and resource use at the student level.
To start, we tracked two “high-risk” entering 9th graders at two different high schools who had both failed the 8th grade math state assessment. At the first school (which uses a block schedule), the student started in a remedial math class first semester and then took progressively more challenging math classes each semester through the end of 10th grade. The student at the second school also started in an introductory math class, but failed it. He then repeated the same course for two of the next three semesters, failing each time. The result two years later? The student at the first school was enrolled in grade 11—on track to graduation, and “college ready” in terms of math credits. The other student dropped out.
We then quantified the investment each school made in the two students’ math course-taking (calculating the per student cost of each of the math classes) to get each student’s total investment. As it turned out, the amount of the investment was almost identical—roughly $1,350 per student over the first two years of high school. Yet the nature and outcomes of these investments were obviously wildly different.
Our sense was that district leadership found the stories of these two students both exciting and humbling. And it certainly raised for them a lot of questions about what contributed to such different results: Who were the teachers? How were the classes configured? What other supports/interventions were or could have been brought to bear for the second student to prevent course failure? To what extent (and in what ways) is this an isolated or district-wide problem?
These insights would not be possible without our new and unique approach to quantifying investments at the student levels and connecting to student scheduling and outcomes.
We then replicated this analysis for the system overall, identifying overall district trends, and specific schools that appeared to be producing much better outcomes as well as a variety of metrics to show the differences in the ways each school organized resources to serve this population. For example, we tried to quantify for each school the extent to which it was able to assign its highest-performing math teachers to its highest-needs math classes.
Since sharing this work, the district has initiated a process to review the course assignment and support strategy for this year’s incoming 9th graders across all schools, and will be monitoring their progress over the course of the year.
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