AN EARLY FOCUS ON DROPOUTS:
About six years ago, leaders of the Western Heights school district confronted the elephant at the graduation ceremony. Limited to yearly enrollment data, no one was quite sure how bad the dropout rate was, but they knew it was a problem. District leaders also knew that if they were going to address the issue, they needed much more detailed information to bring the situation into focus. Finding no adequate information management solution available on the market, Superintendent Joe Kitchens challenged Mizuni to help his district measure the scope of its dropout problem and develop the information and tools necessary to fix it.
MEASURING THE PROBLEM
The resulting ‘ best-of-breed’ system provided a combination of key functionalities not available elsewhere in the marketplace. Western Heights brought several key elements to the table, adopting the U.S. Department of Education’s rigorous and precise, yet rarely applied, ‘ unified cohort graduation rate,’ and developing detailed systems for coding courses and tracking reasons students entered and exited the district. Mizuni developed an attendance system, a cohort tracking system, and a process for managing and delivering both current and historical student class schedules. These and other features were framed within a technology infrastructure that facilitated the integration and movement of detailed student data in real time. Among other functions, this allowed the district to more accurately identify transfers and dropouts.
A CALCULATION, A CALL TO ACTION
In 2007, after four years of data collection, the district was able to accurately measure its cohort dropout rate. At 34.8%, it wasn’t good news, but at least it was accurate. The superintendent shared the figure with the school board, pledged to reduce it, and beginning that year, Western Heights made a bold public gesture that has since become a district tradition. At each graduation ceremony, empty chairs are placed alongside the graduates to symbolize the students from the class who had dropped out. District leaders were literally pulling up a seat for those students who had not reached the finish line in Western Heights High School. And in doing so, they were highlighting the problem for the community.
MIZUNI DELIVERS DATA & EARLY WARNINGS
Beyond the challenging task of measuring the dropout problem, the district’ s innovative data system was also designed to help fix it. As such, the Mizuni Dashboard Suite delivers high-value student data. Educators, who are assigned role-based access to the system, use the dashboard’s data tools and reports to monitor student performance, adjust instruction, and target remediation in specific areas of the curriculum before students fall behind. “That’s huge,” says Jean Adams, Director of the district’s program for dropout prevention and student retention. “It makes life so much easier because you know where you need to focus your attention.” The Mizuni Dashboard Suite also provides an early warning system that alerts educators to students flagged as ‘at-risk,’ as determined using a number of predictive indicators associated with dropping out or disengagement (e.g., low attendance, suspensions, credit deficiency, and poor grades). Furthermore, these resources help the district figure out what problems exist on a broader scale (e.g., student mobility, economic disadvantage, etc.), enhancing the ability to design effective programs and interventions.
A COLLABORATIVE RESPONSE
To respond to its problem with student success, Western Heights has developed a ‘collaborative service model’ based on innovative human and technology solutions. When the data indicate that a student’s academic future may be in jeopardy, intervention staff step in to immediately offer support services and help steer students down a path to success. The district’s many strategies include a career tech center where students can learn technical skills and earn college credit, on-site social worker support for students and families, flexible schedules for working students, day-care services for parents attending classes or college courses, free tuition towards an associate’s degree at a local community college, college-credit courses, and an advanced placement program to ensure that especially bright students remain challenged and engaged.
TOWARD A BRIGHTER FUTURE
Western Heights has made great strides in measuring and reducing its dropout problem with the help of the Mizuni Dashboard Suite. Over the past 4 years, they’ ve cut the cohort dropout rate from 34.8 to 23.3 percent and have become much better able to help kids like Kayla, a teen parent who dropped out, but through intervention efforts was convinced by Western Heights staff to return to school. This year, Kayla, who works nights and weekends to support her 1-year-old son, will become the first person in her family to earn a high school diploma. Perhaps more remarkably, she will be matriculating to a local community college to study nursing through the assistance of the free tuition program. Armed with detailed, real-time data available through the Mizuni Dashboard Suite, the passionate and innovative staff of Western Heights has been successful in reducing the number of empty seats at each year’s graduation. They remain dedicated to continuing the encouraging trend by continuing to use data to accurately monitor and support their students.
- Southwest side of Oklahoma City, OK
- 3,500 students; 6 regular schools, 1 alternative school
- Student population: 42% White, 24% Hispanic, 20% Black, 10% Indian American, 4% Asians, 84% economically disadvantaged