Data presented in the 2015-16 Kell High School SSP (School Strategic Plan) showed that although Kell’s four year graduation rate had increased since the 2011-12 school year, the five year graduation rate for students had fallen stagnant since 2012-13 school year (less than 1% increase).
Enrollment data in August 2015 showed a significant number (4.4 %) of fifth year students that were off track for graduating with their original cohort by a semester or more at Kell. Twenty five students were identified as retained and entering high school in August 2011 with nineteen students being in the twelfth grade.
In addition to Kell SSP data, counselors received feedback from administrators and teachers identifying fifth year seniors as a primary group of students needing greater support academically and socioemotionally.
In September, counselors sought feedback from members of the Kell Advisory Council on interventions for the Closing the Gap project to assist fifth year seniors/students earn their high school diploma by December 2015. Feedback from an open discussion and survey included the following:
• Discouraging fifth year students from taking online coursework
• Encouraging referrals for students to utilize additional credit recovery programs as necessary (ex. Night School, GradPoint)
• Encouraging student referrals to Cobb County School District (CCSD) alternative education programs (Oakwood Digital Academy; Performance Learning Center)
• Provide opportunities for postsecondary planning and completion of college and financial aid applications
Counselors sought interventions that could provide a wraparound system for supporting identified students and their caregivers as well as provide information on alternative ways to earning their high school diploma. Senior transcripts were verified by two separate counselors prior to individual student consultations outlining remaining requirements and identifying a plan for after graduation.
Each student and caregiver were also given information on CCSD’s alternative high schools so students could have a more flexibility to work or provide childcare while recovering coursework to graduate. Alternative education programs have been shown to provide smaller classes with a lower student/teacher ratio that benefits students. (Ruzzi & Kraemer, 2006)
Additionally, school counselors held three small group meetings for fifth year students to provide information for postsecondary planning. Students also used group meetings to develop knowledge of available college and financial aid resources for after graduation. Research shows that “group work is a vital component of a comprehensive school-counseling program and has been recognized as a tool to enhance productive learning and an effective intervention for all students including those with special needs”. (Bore, Armstrong, & Womack, 2010)
Perception data from student surveys showed a large decrease (94%) from pretest to posttest regarding students reporting not confident at all about graduating within the next year. Additionally a majority of the identified students (92%) expressed that they either have a plan in place for after graduation or are considering a plan for after graduation.
Utilizing feedback from advisory council members and Kell faculty, counselors referred two students to CCSD alternative high school programs during the fall 2015 semester. These referred students successfully recovered credits required for graduation and were able to earn their diploma by May 2016.
Outcome data also showed that among seven students opting solely for online coursework only three students successfully earned credits for graduation supporting the hesitations of advisory council members. It should be noted that the three students who passed online classes only required two or fewer courses to meet their graduation requirements.
Fifth year students who were not successful in online classes also had time constraints such as having to work to support their families or child care in addition to a full course load. Some fifth year students were initially “no shows” and did not re-enroll in school until four weeks after the of the fall semester putting them at a disadvantage to complete course requirements. Despite counselors urging these students to take traditional classes, late enrolling students opted for online coursework for reasons such as more flexible time management and feeling self-conscious about seeing former teachers and peers.
In reviewing outcome and perception data from the Closing the Gap project, it is imperative to identify students who are off track earlier allowing them more time to recover coursework for promotion and graduation. Going forward, counselors will continue to refer off track students who are one or more semesters behind for graduation to alternative high schools to help them complete school within a four year timeline.