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BACK ON TRACK TO COLLEGE: Brief Profiles Successful High School Dropout Recovery Program in Texas

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“Thanks to the commitment of Texas to improve graduation rates and reengage out-of-school youth, the Pharr–San Juan–Alamo district has the support it needs to act on its own mission, draw these students back to the classroom to achieve a diploma, and enroll them in postsecondary courses.”

A new issue brief from Jobs for the Future (JFF) profiles a Texas school district for its success in recovering and graduating out-of-school youth and putting them on a pathway to college. According to the brief, Back on Track to College: A Texas School District Leverages State Policy to Put Dropouts on the Path to Success, the Pharr–San Juan–Alamo Independent School District has graduated over six hundred former dropouts over the last two years.

Working with South Texas College, the Pharr–San Juan–Alamo school district created the College, Career, and Technology Academy (CCTA), a college-connected dropout recovery school that allows former dropouts to complete their high school diploma and transition into college courses when they are ready. Students at the academy focus only on what they need for graduation and college readiness, and begin college courses while finishing their high school requirements.

“CCTA’s success started with exemplary state policy,” said Lili Allen, program director at JFF and coauthor of the report. “Thanks to the commitment of Texas to improve graduation rates and reengage out-of-school youth, the Pharr–San Juan–Alamo district has the support it needs to act on its own mission, draw these students back to the classroom to achieve a diploma, and enroll them in postsecondary courses.”

In Texas, the state provides incentives for school districts to recover dropouts and enable postsecondary transitions for all students. For example, Texas allocates per-pupil funding based on average daily attendance (ADA) for recovered students immediately, without the one-year or sometimes two-year delay found in many other states. Texas also allows school districts to collect ADA funding to help young people up to age twenty-six receive high school diplomas. The state encourages school districts to reengage dropouts by giving districts credit in the state’s accountability system for recovering dropouts. The state also includes former dropouts in the district’s high school longitudinal completion rate if former dropouts graduate with their cohort or remain enrolled and progress toward a degree. If they drop out again, they are only counted once as a dropout in the district’s longitudinal completion rate for the state’s accountability system.

On the college- and career-readiness fronts, Texas requires all school districts to make the equivalent of twelve hours of college credit available to students while in high school. The state also has a high school allotment that can be used to cover the costs for tuition, fees, and textbooks for students taking dual-credit courses.

When it first opened its doors in fall 2007, CCTA initially targeted dropouts who were within three credits of graduating or only needed to pass portions of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), the state’s standardized graduation exit exam. To promote the program,Dr. Daniel King, superintendent of the Pharr–San Juan–fAlamo Independent School District, and his team launched an intensive recovery campaign supported by area mayors, school leaders and staff, and other community leaders. Team members knocked on the doors of students who had left the rolls at the end of the last school year and not returned. Within the first month, two hundred students enrolled in CCTA.

After enrolling at CCTA, students have a one-on-one meeting with school staff to review what they lack for graduation—both in terms of credits and TAKS—and discuss what they need to do to turn around their performance. Students then enroll in a course of study that addresses these gaps, and CCTA staff arrange a flexible schedule that allows this older population to maintain family and work obligations. CCTA also strongly emphasizes helping students develop foundational and critical-thinking skills needed for postsecondary success. After students pass the English language arts TAKS, they are eligible to enroll in a limited selection of college courses. Options for dual enrollment include medical terminology, welding, business computing technology, and others.

Since opening its doors, CCTA has expanded to serve students lacking up to five credits instead of three. Additionally, students in the district’s high schools who end their senior year without the credits and/or TAKS needed to graduate are automatically enrolled in CCTA for summer school, and for as many subsequent semesters as are needed.

Download the complete brief at http://www.jff.org/sites/default/files/BackOnTrackCCTA-091510.pdf.

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Dropout Factories

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