Texas students in grades four through eight (known as “the middle grades”) are considered at-risk in the education pipeline. These “tweens” are at a make or break period for determining future academic success. Research has shown that students who are not proficient in reading by the beginning of fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.
During the 2014-15 school year, an alarming eight percent of Texas dropouts (just over 2,500 students) left school in the seventh or eighth grade. Despite this sizeable number, our new report, Stuck in the Middle Grades, finds that the majority of state programs and initiatives focus on high school completion with very little attention to the needs of students in the middle grades.
It’s time for lawmakers to take initiative on the tween dropout rate. Several essential steps are needed to keep students in the middle grades on the path to graduation:
*Create an early warning data system pilot program
Research provides three early indicators of drop-out—Attendance, Behavior, and Course Performances—coined the “ABC’s of secondary school success.” To stop the problem where it starts, the state should create a pilot program early warning data system that is based on currently collected data on the “ABC’s” in core courses. The program would begin in the sixth grade at a select number of campuses that receive a D or F rating under the new accountability system.
*Study best practices for dropout recovery in Texas
Only a handful of alternative education programs, often referred to as Dropout Recovery Schools, accept students that dropped out below the ninth grade level, and students need to be at least 16 years-old before they are eligible to earn a certificate of high school equivalency. Given the limited options for alternative education, we need a study that would aim to identify innovative approaches, such as providing credit recovery programs and summer school options that help students who dropped out during the middle grades get back on track to rejoin their peers in the classroom.
*Strengthen supports for students at-risk of dropping out
At-risk youth who have mentors miss fewer days of school, maintain better attitudes toward school, and are more likely to attend college. To keep students in the middle grades on track, school districts need reliable funding and the flexibility to strengthen academic and social supports for students at risk of dropping out. The most equitable method to direct additional funds to schools for these purposes, while also ensuring school districts have flexibility, is to increase the Basic Allotment and Compensatory Education weight in the school finance formulas.
Stopping the problem of middle grade drop-out starts at the Texas Capitol. If lawmakers prioritize the needs of all students, including those most vulnerable to academic struggles, we ensure our children graduate high school prepared for college and to enter the workforce.
Fortunately HB 2519 by Representative Lynn Stucky and SB 1852 by Senator Sylvia Garcia, takes the first step toward addressing this problem by requiring the Texas Education Agency to conduct a study on the best practices for dropout prevention and recovery in the middle grades. The bill will explore the feasibility of launching an early warning data system pilot program. CPPP supports this bill. Check out our full report and our 2-page executive summary.
CPPP Communications Intern Ace Elliott contributed to this post.