CA district focuses efforts on kids at risk to drop out

More than 1 million students drop out of U.S. schools every year. In many districts across the country, educators are grappling with this sober statistic and seeking ways to keep kids in school.

One such district was Anaheim Union in Southern California, with 33,000 high school students and 22 schools. During the 2008-2009 school year, Anaheim Union sought an innovative approach to ensuring its graduation rates did not fall to drastically low levels. Recognizing the difference data can make in protecting students from this alarming trend, the district opted to pilot the data-driven Prevent for its entire student population, many of whom were already at risk of dropping out of school.

Prevent, an early warning dropout prevention software program from the education technology and services company Pearson, aggregates the most relevant and predictive student information data to pinpoint which students are mostly likely to drop out of school. It assesses changes in student data, such as discipline history, attendance and grades, to give educators the ability to invest their time where it is needed most.

For more than a year now, Anaheim's educators have utilized Prevent's browser-based, early warning system that emphasizes simple, "at-a-glance" reporting, helping all counselors and administrators more quickly identify at-risk students and take action. Anaheim's Assistant Superintendent Fredrick Navarro said that Prevent takes the guess work out of Anaheim's dropout prevention efforts, "Student information is right there on my desktop. The program provides us with an opportunity to collect our experience, our successes and our failures, know what works and what doesn't work, even to the point where we can categorize interventions that work best for specific types of students."

Navarro added that Prevent helps schools intervene with troubled students promptly, before problems worsen. He emphasized that just making students repeat grades isn't enough- instead, educators need to address specific students needs, whether social, emotional or academic.

Working with Anaheim, the Prevent team also provided training to help the on-the-ground educators better understand how data and trends can make a difference with students. "My counselors love that Prevent provides them with a quick, easy way to begin a conversation with a student. Sometimes, that first conversation is all we need to change the course of a student's academic career," Navarro said.

Successful interventions are growing in importance as more than one in four ninth graders (26.8 percent) at U.S. public high schools are not graduating in four years, resulting in earnings of up to 80 percent less than their degree-earning peers.

Prevent founder and Director for Student Growth Gary Hensley has worked with Anaheim for three years and understands firsthand the difficult task Navarro and his team faced. "Prevent was born from my own experience as an administrator where I was faced with students' problems every day and was always trying to get ahead of the curve. We had all the predictors -- attendance, behavior, grades -- readily available, but needed the data to be presented in an easily digestible way to pinpoint the students most at risk of failing out."

Navarro believes Prevent can help make a difference for all students. He said, "Having the ability to not only intercede early, but to track the outcomes of the interventions is crucial in helping us to determine the path that we take with every child."