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PATHWAYS FOR ALL STUDENTS TO SUCCEED: New Senate Legislation Seeks to Raise Graduation Rates and Improve High Schools

"The PASS Act, if enacted, will directly benefit the six million American students who are most at risk of dropping out of high school or graduating without a meaningful diploma," said Bob Wise

Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate would work to improve the nation’s high schools through a focus on math and literacy instruction and academic counseling. The Pathways for All Students to Succeed Act, or PASS Act, which was reintroduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) on April 27, would also help to improve the accuracy of high school graduation rates and to turn around low-performing schools.

“The success of our high schools has very real consequences for our communities, our workforce, and our economy,” Senator Murray said. “For too many students, graduation and college seem out of reach. My PASS Act provides the tools our schools need to reach these students earlier and put them on a track to graduate.”

The bill notes that while the No Child Left Behind Act provides a strong framework for helping children in the early grades, the nation “needs a comprehensive strategy to address the literacy problems and learning gaps of students in middle school and secondary school.” To address these shortcomings at the secondary level, the PASS Act would authorize $1 billion for literacy coaches who would work with middle and high school teachers and help them incorporate proven reading and writing instruction into their teaching. Because reading difficulties do not discriminate by subject, coaches would work with teachers across the curriculum to help them identify students who struggle with their assignments, whether in a math word problem or a social studies project.

In addition to the $1 billion for literacy coaches, the PASS Act also authorizes $1 billion for math coaches who would work with teachers in grades six through twelve on research-based mathematics instruction proven to help improve students’ mathematical abilities and knowledge. Coaches would also work with teachers to identify students with problems in math and, if necessary, refer students to an appropriate remediation program. Both math and reading coaches would work closely with teachers at a ratio not to exceed one coach for every twenty teachers.

Approximately 60 percent of students in the poorest communities fail to graduate from high school on time. The act would authorize $2 billion for academic counselors to help increase the number of students who graduate from high school while also improving college preparation for all students. Working with students and their families, academic counselors would develop a six-year personal plan for all students in their ninth-grade year which would define a student’s career and education goals and map the courses needed for on-time high school graduation and successful preparation for postsecondary education or work. The plan would also identify the supplemental services necessary to meet those goals.

The bill would authorize $500 million for low-performing schools to help them implement comprehensive reform models or research-based programs that have demonstrated success in raising student achievement. Examples of successful programs include smaller learning communities, adolescent literacy programs, block scheduling, whole school reforms, individualized learning plans, personalized learning environments, and strategies that target students making the transition from middle school to secondary school.

To better track the students affected by these reforms, the PASS Act would authorize $50 million in grants to states to develop or increase the capacity of data systems for assessment and accountability purposes, including the collection of graduation rates.

Murray wrote the PASS Act based on proven research and practice on improving student achievement in the high school years, including the Alliance for Excellent Education’s flagship report, Every Child a Graduate.

“The PASS Act, if enacted, will directly benefit the six million American students who are most at risk of dropping out of high school or graduating without a meaningful diploma,” said Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “Most of these young people are unable to read and write well enough to take challenging classes. Few understand what courses they need to take at the secondary level to be prepared for college or a rewarding career. The large, impersonal schools that most of them attend cannot provide environments that support teaching and learning. The PASS Act will provide the kinds of supports to students and their schools that are needed if all of America’s children are to graduate from high school prepared to be productive members of twenty-first-century society.”

Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, are cosponsors of the PASS Act.

Senator Murray’s press release and a summary of the legislation are available at

The Alliance for Excellent Education’s report Every Child a Graduate calls for the implementation of four research-based components to improve middle and high schools while raising graduation rates for at-risk students. It is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.