Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Improving High School Graduation Rates in Rhode Island
This Issue Brief presents detailed graduation and dropout rates for every school and
district in Rhode Island, research on warning signs and risk factors of dropping out, and
key strategies for dropout intervention and recovery, increased graduation rates, and
college readiness. Rhode Island’s four‐year graduation rate has been steadily increasing
in recent years, from 70% in 2007 to 77% in 2012. Disparities continue to exist within
this overall increase. In Rhode Island, students in several sub‐populations have lower
graduation rates that their peers, including: English Language Learners, students with
disabilities, and low‐income students. Minority students also are more likely than White
students to drop out.
The lowest graduation rates are in the four core cities, Central Falls (68%), Pawtucket
(67%), Providence (65%), and Woonsocket (65%). While students in Rhode Island’s
core cities are more likely to drop out than students in the remainder of the state,
progress has been made in increasing the graduation rate. The four‐year graduation
rate for the four core cities increased from 56% in 2007 to 66% in 2012, a steeper
increase than in remainder of the state districts, where the graduation rate increased
from 79% in 2007 to 83% in 2012. Also, the two districts with the largest increases in
graduation rates from 2007 to 2012 were both core city districts – Central Falls and
Warning signs for students at risk
Dropping out of school is almost always a long process rather than a sudden event. A number of
factors or “early warning signs” can predict students at risk for dropping out, including reading
below grade level at the end of third grade; poor course performance; ongoing patterns of
absenteeism or tardiness; and multiple suspensions or other behavior problems. Research
shows that reading at grade level by the end of third grade, attendance, behavior, and course
performance can be tracked and monitored to successfully identify and intervene with students
who are most at risk of dropping out.
Recommendations to Improve Graduation Rates
Raise awareness among students, parents, and the general public about the connection
between educational attainment and positive economic, social, and health outcomes.
Increase access to high‐quality early childhood programs, pre‐kindergarten, and fullday
kindergarten to prevent the achievement gap early on.
Ensure that all children read proficiently by the end of third grade, focusing on
improving school readiness, reducing chronic early absence, and increasing access to highquality
Establish early warning systems that use data on attendance, behavior, and course
performance to identify students at risk of dropping out.
Help students transition from middle school to high school by preparing students to
participate in the high school campus and culture before enrollment, ensuring that all
students feel connected to school, and identifying students who are struggling before high
school and providing timely and individualized supports.
Provide multiple pathways to graduation for all students who need them, including
acceleration programs for students lacking credits, online instruction, flexible hours,
partnerships with adult education and other community providers, and alternative
Ensure that school leaders have high expectations for all students and staff.
Focus on closing achievement gaps between low‐income and higher‐income students and
White and minority students. Collect and report data on graduation rates for special
Ensure that all students have effective teachers and that all teachers receive
professional development opportunities focused on effective instructional practice and
differentiated teaching methods for a range of learning styles.
Offer students a rigorous and engaging curriculum aligned with standards and tied to
college access, career pathways, and vocational exploration opportunities, including
opportunities to participate in arts, music, and sports programs and expanded learning
opportunities that allow students to receive credit for rigorous, hands‐on, individualized
learning opportunities outside the classroom.
Reduce chronic absence at all school levels by developing systems that provide frequent
reports on student absenteeism and reasons for absenteeism.
Improve the school climate by focusing on teaching, modeling, and rewarding students’
positive behavior and revising disciplinary policies to ensure the equitable, appropriate,
and limited use of suspensions and expulsions.
Improve communication with parents, especially when students are falling behind
academically, frequently absent, or exhibiting troubling behaviors in school.
Develop and nurture partnerships between schools and higher education institutions,
community organizations, and businesses to offer wrap‐around supports to students and
promote educational success.
Share best practices of schools and districts that are having success in raising their
graduation rates with other schools and districts.