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(SIG)NIFICANT BENEFITS: Federal School Improvement Grants Close Urban Schools’ Achievement Gaps and Advance High School Students Toward Graduation, New Report Finds

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"Reducing ninth-grade enrollments while increasing enrollments in the upper high school grades is a “leading indicator of improvements in high school graduation rates.”

A new report from the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) finds that urban high schools receiving a federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) improved their ability to promote students from one high school grade to the next, resulting in fewer students being held back in ninth grade and higher percentages of students reaching grades eleven and twelve.

“The results of this study indicate that urban schools have made significant improvements with the federal funds they received through the School Improvement Grants, although they have much further to go,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the CGCS. “The gains suggest that the federal government should retain its targeted and dedicated efforts to improve the nation’s lowest-performing schools.”

As shown in the table below taken from the report, 29.96 percent of high school students in CGCS districts were ninth graders in School Year (SY) 2009–10. By SY 2011–12, the percentage of ninth-grade students dropped to 28.06 percent while the percentage of eleventh graders increased from 22.7 percent to 23.05 percent and the percentage of twelfth graders increased from 20.58 percent to 21.53 percent.

School Year

Ninth Grade

Tenth Grade

Eleventh Grade

Twelfth Grade

2009–10

29.96%

26.76%

22.70%

20.58%

2010–11

28.81%

26.64%

22.97%

21.59%

2011–12

28.06%

25.73%

23.05%

21.53%

The report, School Improvement Grants: Progress Report from America’s Great City Schools, notes that the larger percentage of ninth-grade students is a “common and long-standing enrollment pattern” in which ninth graders “stack up” because they have not passed core courses and have not accumulated sufficient credits to move up to subsequent grades.

“Smoothing out this distribution is one possible effect that SIG might have on urban school systems,” the report notes. Additionally, the report says that reducing ninth-grade enrollments while increasing enrollments in the upper high school grades is a “leading indicator of improvements in high school graduation rates.”

By using state assessment data to compare non–SIG-eligible schools—which tend to be higher performing—with SIG-awarded schools, the report also finds positive results for grades three through eight in urban schools that received SIG funds.

As shown in the graph below, 64.6 percent of students at non–SIG-eligible schools performed at or above proficient in SY 2009–10, compared to only 27.4 percent of SIG-awarded schools—a gap of 37.2 percentage points. By SY 2012–13, the gap had narrowed to 29.9 percentage points. The report finds similar results for reading, and it notes that achievement gaps narrowed steadily in both math and reading in the first two years but leveled off in the third year. (Click on the image below for a larger version.)

CGCSGraph

Using feedback from interviews with district- and building-level staff from urban school districts, the report includes elements that appear to lead to more successful implementation efforts, including clear, coherent, and coordinated district plans for supporting and turning around the lowest-performing schools; interventions focused on instructional improvements; professional development that builds staff instructional capacity; principals who were given the flexibility to make staff changes or remove ineffective educators; and the ability to leverage data to identify the specific academic needs of struggling students.

The report cautions that a “major challenge” facing all SIG schools will be the need to sustain academic gains after federal dollars go away. “Urban district and school leaders interviewed for this project voiced both optimism and concern for the future,” the report notes. “The SIG program provided districts with opportunities for intensive reform and collaboration to meet the needs of struggling schools. Whether these improvements are sustainable will ultimately determine the value and impact of the endeavor.”

School Improvement Grants: Progress Report from America’s Great City Schools is available at http://bit.ly/17iTsE5.

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