School boards looking for a roadmap to reduce dropouts need to assert their authority regarding grading policies and create strategies to help students recover from various kinds of failure, East Baton Rouge Superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr. said at a Friday session sponsored by the National School Boards Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education.
“For some students, school is about despair, not hope and opportunity,” Taylor said. That’s particularly common among boys, who are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of school.
But schools can create policies and programs to turn that around and get better results, Taylor said in a presentation entitled “Reclaiming Those with Promise.” In his former district, Michigan’s Green Rapids Public Schools, the number of schools making adequate yearly progress jumped from 26 to 49 over five years.
One crucial area is grading policy, he said. If you ask a teacher why a given student received a given grade, “You will hear this: ‘I have the right to give this student the grade I think he or she deserves.’”
To which Taylor replies: “Who sets the grading policy for the district?”
It’s the school board, of course. “If your grading policy is creating your failure problem, and your failure problem is creating your dropout problem, you have to look at whether you are shooting yourself in the foot with your policies or the interpretation of those policies.”
Some common dropout factors include poor attendance, disengagement from school, and lack of emotional support. For that reason, school leaders ought to stop concentrating on student-teacher ratio and instead put a priority on “caring adult to student ratio.”
While one traditional approach to address failure has been summer school, a key element of success involves having the right personnel for such programs, Taylor said. “If you are employing the same people who failed the children during the school year, you are making a critical mistake.”
He also suggested outsourcing of guidance and other forms of counseling can improve results.
Regardless of what kinds of interventions your district uses, be sure there are metrics to assess results. If that’s missing, “don’t pay for it.”
— Eric Randall