News

H-school dropout rate same as state's

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

A state report estimates the statewide high school graduation rate for the class of 2002 at 66 percent, just 1 percent higher than Federal Way.

In individual Federal Way high schools, the estimated class of 2002 cohort graduation rate was 65 percent for Decatur, 56 percent at Federal Way, 77 percent at Thomas Jefferson and 19 percent at Harry S. Truman.

Students who earned alternative IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or GED diplomas, or who did not graduate within the traditional four-year period, were not considered graduates by state definitions.

The report released last month by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson estimates that about 1.5 percent of freshmen, 7.7 percent of sophomores, 8.2 percent of juniors and 5.6 percent of seniors in the Federal Way Public Schools class of 2002 dropped out.

In contrast, the statewide dropout breakdown for the same cohort class was 6.6 percent of freshmen, 6.7 percent of sophomores, 7.7 percent of juniors and 10.1 percent of seniors.

”We have both a moral and an ethical obligation to ensure all of our students are prepared with the skills and knowledge to be successful adults,” Bergeson said. “With the recent inclusion of graduation rates as an indicator of a successful school, we have an even more compelling reason to make a reduction in the dropout rates a high priority.”

And while the state-released report’s findings on causes of dropouts and weak graduation rates confirm some of the Federal Way school district’s findings, district administrators already put an overhaul plan into motion several years ago, starting with the middle school transition process.

The process — which created four-year high schools and changed junior high schools to middle schools — is just one district tool to improve student academic performance and increase graduation rates. The district’s Web site explains the reasons behind the transition, including the fact that “far too many of our students are not learning even the minimum skills; a significant number of them don’t even graduate from high school.”

“What we’re doing here is more than just shifting bodies,” district spokeswoman Diane Turner said of the transition process.

“No longer will we see an educational system that becomes stagnant,” she said, referring to old teaching methods that disregarded the melting-pot of the modern student body.

Indeed, the district’s 2003-04 school year fact sheet reports that 42.73 percent of students are minorities, 36 percent of elementary school-aged students are in or near poverty, and a total of 78 languages are spoken by students districtwide — suggesting that many students speak English as a second language.

Tough challenges for a school district whose goal is to make “every student a reader,” have the class of 2008 pass the 10th-grade WASL as a graduation requirement, and meet the 2014 statewide goal of having an 85 percent cohort graduation rate.

Turner pointed out that the transition process is linked with improving student academic performance, and it’s expected to help improve graduation rates.

But the transition process is only one part of a plan to increase student academic performance and increase graduation rates.

Federal Way district administrators are also addressing the need to facilitate cultural literacy and understanding between educators and students through a variety of programs.

During a media briefing earlier this month, superintendent Tom Murphy mentioned that Equity and Achievement program director Alma Dansby “found many minority parents feel their kids’ opportunities are limited.”

He added that this may in part be caused by cultural illiteracy, or a lack of understanding of how cultural heritage, socioeconomic factors and other family-of-origin issues can influence a student’s performance.

To that end, the parent advocate program was founded as a mediator between parents and district administrators, while the REACH program helps educators understand student family of origin issues, including cultural heritage and socioeconomic factors.

Other district programs — including Equity and Achievement, the AmeriCorps tutoring program, “looping” teachers, the introduction of the college-oriented AVID program, and the parent-advocate program headed by Trise Moore — are already addressing the factors that can contribute to high school drop outs and weak graduation rates.

The state report lists several factors that contribute to dropping out, among them:

• Personal factors. This includes low self-esteem, negative self-perception, negative attitudes about school, low aspirations, or involvement in gang and drug cultures.

• Family factors, including single-parent homes, poverty backgrounds, families moving, family crises or abuse; traditional gender roles and expectations, teen pregnancy and motherhood.

• Economic factors. Students from poor families are much more likely to drop out than their more affluent counterparts. Demanding jobs or student employment over 15 hours per week can diminish school performance.

• Sociocultural factors. Educators’ lack of knowledge and sensitivity toward non-Caucasian students can disillusion, frustrate and discourage students. Education scholars encourage cultural sensitivity training and more thoughtful teaching methods to help all students feel understood and included. In addition, students who speak English as a second language face obvious barriers to effective education.

The report also addressed school-related factors that can contribute to dropping out. Among them are conflicts between school and home culture, a lack of counseling, disregard for individual learning styles, and lack of language instruction.

The report concludes that school district administrators statewide can take several actions to reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates.

The plan to prevent dropouts calls for early intervention, supplemental in-school or out-of-school education enhancement, alternative schools and alternative programs.

And the “recovery” plan, whose goal is to reintroduce dropouts to school, includes alternative or “second chance” schools, charter schools, adult high schools, education and job training programs, and GED prep programs.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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