African American males make up 8% of our school population. In reviewing school data from 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, this group continues to be one of our largest GAP groups. In looking at our Standards of Learning (SOL) trend data, School Improvement Plans, and our graduation rates we found that our African American males consistently do not meet the existing benchmarks of academic success and are much more at risk for not meeting on time graduation. Studies show that students who struggle academically in 9th grade are more likely to fail 5 or more of their 8 classes in 10th grade. These students are 1/3 more likely to experience continuous academic, behavior, and attendance issues each subsequent year all reducing their chance of on-time graduation. At the end of the 2015-16 school year, we found that 52 of African American male students had failed one or more core classes which was approximately 32% of our African American male population. Our goal was to decrease the number of African American male students failing one or more core classes at the end of the 2016-17 school year by 10%. Counselors reviewed educational research about effective ways to close the achievement gap and focused heavily on Best Practices for Effective Schools by the Urban Health Institute at John Hopkins. It finds that students who feel connected to school have both positive academic and behavioral outcomes. This, along with our identified ASCA mindsets and behaviors was the foundation for our interventions. Our focus was to build the school connection for this group by fostering positive relationships and building a strong community of support through consistent individual check ins, academic contracts and tutoring, parent meetings, and an academic success group for selected students.
At the end of 1st semester, there were 51 African American male students who were failing one or more core subject class. Counselors started working individually with each student on his/her caseload. They held individual conferences with each student and parent and established academic success plans/contracts for each student. These looked different for each student depending on individual needs, academic strengths, and overall goals. Students identified reasons contributing to their struggles, such as not doing homework, not understanding the material, not liking the instructor, feeling like no one cares, and missing class. Counselors worked with each of his/her students in 8 individual academic success meetings throughout the remainder of the year. As part of the academic contract every student agreed to attend 6 sessions with a free tutoring resource. In early February, we held a parent meeting for grades 9-11. The purpose of this meeting was to stress our role in the school but also covered graduation requirements, attendance policies, and the importance of academic success. All parents were invited but counselors made specific calls to the parents of their failing African American male students. Our hope was to connect the parents more to the school in order to encourage parent involvement and foster a positive home/school relationship.
We also determined that we would run an academic success group called Strengthening Success. Research has shown that group work has a positive impact on school attendance, behavior, work habits, and academic achievement. Brigman and Campbell (2003) reported that achievement and behavior are positively impacted by group counseling interventions that focus not only on these desired outcomes but also address the social and emotional dimensions of group participants Out of the 51 identified students, 21 were 10th graders and 18 of them were failing a math class. This was of particular concern to us because our school data shows that math is an area that we are continually performing below the state SOL pass rates especially when looking at our African American students. 8 of the 21 invited students agreed to participate in the 6 group sessions. Counselors continued to check in weekly with all identified students and received weekly academic reports from teachers.
Overall, our data showed that 25 out of the 51 identified students passed their core classes for the year and were promoted to the following grade. Only 3 students failed enough courses to be retained. This data shows that our designated interventions made a significantly positive impact on this population. Out of the students who still failed a core class and especially the students who were retained, we noted that attendance and behavior referrals remained significant issues. In the future, we plan to continue with these interventions focusing more on decreasing attendance and discipline issues.