Producing accurate rates requires that states and districts adopt procedures to ensure the quality of their data; we, therefore, recommend that all states and districts maintain written documentation of their processes, procedures, and results. The documentation should be updated annually and should include a process for adding elements or making changes to the system (Recommendation 6-2).

Because the quality of the data begins at the point when data are collected and entered into the system, it is important that training be provided for those who carry out these tasks. We recommend that all states and districts implement a system of extensive and on-going staff training that addresses procedures for collection, storage, analysis, and use of the data (Recommendation 6-3) and conduct regular audits to verify data quality (Recommendation 6-4).

HOW DATA SYSTEMS CAN IMPROVE POLICY AND PRACTICE

Improving graduation rates in this country requires more than simply reporting accurate rates. To truly improve outcomes for students, data systems need to incorporate information that enables early identification of at-risk students. Research suggests a number of factors associated with dropping out: frequent absences, failing grades in reading or math, poor behavior, being over age for grade, having a low grade 9 grade-point average (GPA), failing grade 9, or having a record of frequent transfers. These findings suggest that states and districts should build data systems that incorporate documented early indicators of the risk of dropping out. At the same time, they should also conduct their own studies to determine the factors associated with dropping out from their school systems. Once determined, measures of these factors should be incorporated into the data system so at-risk students can be identified in time to intervene (Recommendation 5-1).

Finally, the federal government should play an active role in this area by collecting data on these early indicators. These indicators should be collected by grade level and should include variables such as the number of students missing a month or more of school, average number of days absent, average number of course failures, number of students failing one course or more, mean GPA, and indicators of behavior problems. Collecting these data would allow for indications of progress toward graduation at the national level and enable comparative studies on early indicators of dropout across states and localities (Recommendation 7-4).

As educational accountability focuses increasingly on the successful completion of high school, appropriate, relevant, and understandable measures of high school dropout and completion are becoming more important as indicators of the functioning of schools and of students’ preparation for college and work. The findings and recommendations of this report are provided to guide the creation of such indicators at the local, state, and national levels.



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