Can the U.S. meet its 2014 goal for students?

Dallas Examiner | 6/7/2013, 11:15 a.m.
We’re fast approaching 2014, the year federal law calls for all students to be 100 percent proficient in reading and ...
Graduations cap with diploma graphic Photo by Robyn H. Jimenez

Special to The Dallas Examiner

We’re fast approaching 2014, the year federal law calls for all students to be 100 percent proficient in reading and math.

Are we there yet?

“No, but to be fair, that goal was unattainable,” said Dr. Mariam Azin, president of Mazin Education, which develops software solutions to help schools better assess, identify and serve at-risk students.

“What concerns me more is that the No Child Left Behind Act is also intended to dramatically reduce dropout rates. That’s very attainable, and yet we still have 1 in 5 students failing to graduate from high school.”

A core tenet of the 2001 federal law is 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math by next year. It also requires all secondary schools to show yearly progress on the number of freshmen who graduate with diplomas after four years.

However, two years ago, states were offered waivers on meeting some of the law’s requirements if they implemented certain policies, such as linking teacher evaluations to students’ test scores. As of April, 34 states and the District of Columbia had been granted waivers and 10 more applications were pending.

“Most of the states with waivers are now circumventing the accountability rules intended to increase the graduation rate, which is now 78 percent nationally,” said Azin, citing an Alliance for Excellent Education report released in February. “That sounds good until you realize 22 out of every 100 students – the dropouts – are more likely to earn less money, be less healthy, and spend time in jail. Five states have dropout rates of more than 40 percent.”

Azin, who holds a doctorate in applied social psychology and has more than 20 years’ experience in educational research and evaluation, said there are clear indicators that a student is at risk for dropping out.

“By monitoring each student’s risk factors and intervening early, we can keep more kids in school,” she expounded. “And that doesn’t have to be a labor-intensive exercise – we have computers.”

Some risk factors can be monitored just by collating the student information already recorded, she noted.

While research has identified many potential predictors, these have proven consistently reliable, Azin explained.

• Attendance: Being absent 10 percent of school days – first 30 days per grading period annually.

• Behavior: One or more major behavior incidents per grading period1.

• Course performance: An inability to read at grade level by the end of third grade; failure in courses – e.g., including core subject areas such as English or math – in sixth through 12th grades; a GPA of less than 2.0; and failure to earn enough credits for promotion to the next grade.

“Once a student has been identified, it is critical that he or she be connected with someone who’s able to further evaluate him or provide services,” Azin stated. “Unfortunately, research shows that this often fails to happen.”

That’s why it’s essential to have a system in place that monitors when and how students connect with services, and the progress they’re making, according to Azin.

“Again, this can be automated, with alerts going to the appropriate interventionist when necessary,” she said.

Boosting high school graduation rates to near 100 percent is both essential and attainable with the information now available, Azin encouraged.

“No child should be left behind, and it’s within our means to identify students at risk of dropping out and take steps to prevent that.”