Georgia Connections Academy (2018)

Duluth, GA

Closing the Gap


Georgia Connections Academy’s (GACA) most recent published graduation rate was 34%. A major factor representing a large portion of the difficulties we face as a virtual school and our graduation rates are students who enroll off-cohort for graduation. Approximately 700 new students enrolled in Georgia Connections Academy ranging across grade levels for the 2015-2016 school year and 9.3% of the student population that ended the year with Georgia Connections Academy were deemed as off cohort for graduating within their four-year graduation timeframe. This percentage does not include off-cohort students who were enrolled with us some point during the 2015-2016 school years, but were voluntarily or administratively withdrawn for attendance reasons. Our closing-the-gap initiative, Power PUSH (Persevere Until Success Happens), specifically targeted students whose graduation cohort year was listed as 2016-2017 but were not on track for that graduation year.

Using research from specifically on personal attention and encouragement, the counseling department developed a calling plan similar to a check-in/check-out program for our identified student population. Because GACA staff communicates with our students mostly by phone, the counseling department set up scheduled weekly calls with 63 identified students who were off-cohort for graduation for the 2016-2017 school year. During those calls counselors and staff worked through barriers to success the student was facing and helped students to develop a firm plan for becoming more successful in high school and at Georgia Connections Academy. All of these calls were logged with detailed notes accessible to all staff that had some stake in the student’s welfare.

In addition to the calling plan, these students were also invited to monthly student success sessions, which were in-person sessions created and hosted by the counseling team that included the student and their caretakers. A group meeting with the principal and graduation coach was held prior to meeting with the student’s counselor for an individual session. These sessions were designed to help reinforce the student’s understanding of ways to remove potential academic barriers and to develop a plan to make the student more successful. Each student was asked to sign a contract along with their caretakers that outlined the individual counseling session held with the caretaker present. All students who attended the sessions had their grades and credits earned tracked from the beginning of the year until the end of the year with frequent check ins by phone and in person with our counseling department.

The intervention’s calling plan honed in on more abstract standards such as self-discipline or control, while a shift to specific behaviors or self-management skills was used for the success sessions since those were in person and held with all counselors present to dicuss and work through behavior concerns. Specifically, the calling plan most often attempted to address strategies B-SMS 2 and 5 as many students who struggle with academic success lack the motivation or ability to plan to perform at their optimal potential. Behavior standards B-SMS 1, 6, and 8 were the focal points of the success sessions with the design to assist students in removing behavioral barriers to their learning and developing better habits when working independently.

The results of this intervention showed only slight gains. While the students received a much larger number of calls and in-person contacts from staff, they earned an average of 5.79 credits in the 2016-2017 school year compared to 5.36 credits in the 2015-2016 school year. Additionally, while more credits were earned on average, students from this target group attempted an average of 7.15 credits in 2016-2017 compared to the 6.53 attempted by the same group during the 2015-2016 school year. Approximately 53% of the students from the target group earned more credits during the 16-17 school year than they did during the 15-16 school year. This data implies that increased contacts from staff does not impact student success in the way we want and that other factors such as working unsupervised or lack of motivation are contributing to this population continuing to struggle.

Future attempts at this intervention should include grade check markers where student grades are analyzed more frequently, perhaps on a monthly basis, to determine the effectiveness of calling plan check ins and whether more frequent check ins are needed for students. Furthermore, students should have a grade cutoff where falling below said cutoff requires a meeting with the student’s academic team, counselor, and guardian to address concerns prior to the completion of the semester. Ideally, this would increase student performance with the increased monitoring and prevent credit

Goal: Decrease the % of students from 12.9% who earned 3 or less credits during the 15/16 school year by 10% for the 16/17 school year

Target Group: 11th grade students off-cohort for graduation during their defined graduation cohort year

Data Used to Identify Students: Credits and final Grade Report

School Counselor(s): Ronnie Jones/Jennifer Bywaters

ASCA Domain, Mindsets & Behaviors Standard(s): REVISED SECTION:B-SMS 1,2,5,6, 8

Type of Activities to be Delivered in What Manner?: Student Success Sessions - In-person meetings (Monthly) Georgia Connections Academy Calling Plan

Process Data (Number of students affected): 63 returning GACA students from 2015-2016 who were identified as off-cohort for graduation

Perception Data (Surveys or assessments used): Of the 5 questions asked roughly half of the responses were in the neutral to strongly disagree range.

Outcome Data (Achievement, attendance, and/or behavior data): Of the 63 targeted students, 53% earned more credits towards graduation in during the 16-17 school year than they did in the 15-16 school year. However, as a whole, the target group attempted an average of 7.15 credits, up from the 6.53 credits attempted during the 15-16 school year.

Implications: REVISED SECTION A specific focus was placed on behavior strategies B:SMS 2 (self-discipline and control) and B:SMS 5 (achievement of short/long-term goals) for the calling plan portion of the intervention because teachers were involved and did not feel they had the behavioral expertise to address concerns of that nature. Therefore, counselors addressed standards B:SMS 1,6,8 with a specific focus on behaviors that could be changed to assist the student. While slight gains were noticed in terms of credits earned, the gains were not significant enough to provide meaningful data as to whether or not this intervention worked. Outside factors such as a lack of supervision, lack of motivation towards school, or severe skill deficits are likely contributing to the continued struggles of this student population. However, with that being said, since there were gains noticed, the team believes it is best to modify this intervention to include focused study sessions aimed at areas where these students show the most academic struggles, grade check markers to assess where students stand academically on a monthly basis, and a grade cutoff where students are required to attend an academic team meeting to address concerns should their overall grade fall below a certain level in the future. More frequent monitoring of grades by the counseling department would likely increase the accountability of students and may prevent them from ultimately failing.