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Four Ways Indiana is Closing Its Graduation Gap for Low-income Students

This article is part of the “What’s Working” series, which highlights promising practices for helping to close the graduation gap in communities and states across the country.

When it comes to graduation rates, Indiana has some serious bragging rights. Not only did it have one of the highest high school graduation rates of any state in the country in 2015, it also reported the smallest graduation gap between low-income and non-low-income students in the country—no easy feat, considering more than one-third of Indiana students come from low-income families.

So how did they do it?

That’s what Civic Enterprises looks at in their new report, Closing the Graduation Gap: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates in Indiana, in which researchers identified four proven practices that helped Indiana schools and districts reach these milestones.

Schools Use Early Warning Systems

Closing the Graduation GapClosing the Gap says some Indiana schools have a strong focus on Early Warning Systems that track students’ Attendance, Behavior, and Course Performance (the ABCs). There’s already a wealth of research that shows the effectiveness of this practice, but where most schools might look at overall attendance rates for the school, Indianapolis Public Schools and Fort Wayne Community Schools, for example, are focusing specifically on tracking attendance of individual students.

Schools then use this measure as a warning to counselors, teachers, and administrators that it’s time to step in. “We have seen evidence of close collaboration among these educators and a relentless spirit to get students whatever supports they need to get back on and stay on track,” the report says.

Leaders Foster an “Every Student Counts” Culture with Caring Adults

District leaders recognized that many students are dealing with major challenges at home while they struggle to stay in school, and positive adult role models, guides, and mentors can help provide much needed emotional support.

So schools have adopted a range of practices that foster more connection between staff and students, such as rearranging the school’s schedule to allow teachers time to connect with their students and implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) practices in the classroom.

Helping more students have these supportive relationships contributes to the “Every Student Counts” culture the state has created, but so has recognizing that different students need different paths to graduation.

To that end, Indiana has several adult learning centers that allow overage and under-credited students to fit school into their own schedule, which likely includes holding down a job to support themselves and their families.

The State Raised the Compulsory School Age Law

The report notes that Indiana was one of the first states to pass legislation raising its compulsory school age law. Students in the state used to be able to drop out at age 16, but now the law requires them to stick it out until 18—which increases the odds they’ll make it all the way to graduation.

Indiana was also one of the earliest states to start reporting the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate—a common measure now used nationwide—and calling out gaps between student subgroups. These actions generated more awareness of the problems facing schools, districts, and states.

“We have seen evidence in Indiana of how such heightened awareness prompted action to create cultures within schools and communities that embraced the high school dropout challenge,” the report says.

Districts Connect the Classroom to Career

While past research has demonstrated that students often drop out of high school because of challenging circumstances at home, Civic’s cross-sample of students nationwide found that the main reason students leave is because they feel like their education doesn’t connect to their future career.

So it makes sense that Indiana districts have seen more engagement by building connections with local employers to create internship opportunities for their students and made large investments in career and technical education.

The state has also hired school staff to work with students who have dropped out to get them back into school through alternative programs that link directly to employment or higher education.

These four practices are just a snapshot of the expansive work Indiana has done to raise graduation rates and narrow the gap for low-income students. To get a full picture—and to understand where challenges remain—read the full report.

Learn more about the GradNation State Activation initiative

The GradNation State Activation initiative is a collaboration between America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson to increase high school graduation rates by encouraging statewide innovation and collaboration, sharing that knowledge and replicating what works, and developing successful models all states can replicate.

Join the GradNation Learning Community

To get more news about graduation rates and effective practices to increase them, join the GradNation Learning Community, a hub for sharing strategies and successful practices. Just send an email to [email protected] with your name, email address and organizational affiliation. To join the conversation on Twitter, use #GradNation