Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

Hillsborough school leaders search for clues to lagging graduation rate

TAMPA — Trying to improve Hillsborough County's lagging graduation rate, acting superintendent Jeff Eakins started with a question: What is keeping kids off the stage?

He pulled data on the 26.5 percent of students who were high school freshmen in 2010 but did not get diplomas in 2014 — everything from state test scores to how many times they were suspended.

Among the findings: Holding students back a year doesn't work. Sixth-grade reading scores are a bellwether for success. And your grade-point average in ninth grade is a pretty good indicator of whether you will go the distance.

"In the short term, we have to do something very intentional about how we track our students' credits and success in ninth grade, and what supports we can provide them," Eakins said. "It's all about keeping them on track in that first year or two in high school."

At the same time, he said, the district must look closely at the other transition years — third grade, when high-stakes tests get under way, and sixth grade, when children make that often-abrupt adjustment to middle school.

Months before he inked the contract last week that starts his two-year term as district leader, Eakins described the graduation rate as "a call to action" and vowed to address not just graduation day, but the day after.

Hillsborough's rate is 73.5 percent, which lags large Florida districts and others in the area. The state average is 76.1 percent. Nationwide, an estimated 81 percent of kids graduate from high school, and federal officials want it to 90.

"We have to get engaged with our kids all throughout their schooling," Eakins said, suggesting the district needs to free up guidance counselors, who often spend much of their work on chores other than counseling.

"We've got to get all of our support systems in place early on or they're never going to be set up for success later on."

The analysis Eakins did of the Class of 2014 is a snapshot, but a detailed one that offers hints at how to improve.

Melissa Erickson, an education advocate who worked with high school students this year as part of the GradNation project, said the data confirm things teens have told her.

"The numbers that I've seen clearly show that there are some holes for kids who don't take traditional paths to graduation," she said.

Specifically, she said, students preparing for blue-collar careers get waylaid by credit recovery classes they must take after they fail a standardized test.

The classes are often taught in computer labs without the instruction kids need when they don't understand basic concepts, and they block students from taking electives that might keep them in school and help them in their careers.

Credit recovery classes "are just more barrier they see and one more place where they feel they're being pushed out," Erickson said. A recent change in state law could help, as it gives districts flexibility in that area.

Erickson and her students polled 2,000 teens, using open-ended questions.

Two key issues emerged in addition to the need for a less punitive credit recovery system.

One, students said they could not find supportive relationships at school.

"The high-stakes testing environment took the personal element out of education," Erickson said. "They didn't have time to have relationships with teachers or their peers."

While some schools bring in mentors, she said, students "don't want people from outside the system coming in to build relationships for them. They want those relationships with the people they see every day."

The other issue: gaps in counseling. Students said they needed more help making plans for school and life after school.

"They told us the first time they meet one-on-one with a counselor is in their junior year," Erickson said. "Most of their decisions have been made at that time."

School Board Chairwoman Susan Valdes did her own research two years ago, interviewing students from Town 'N Country area schools who earned certificates of completion but not diplomas.

Some were blocked because they could not pass the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in the 10th grade. While the system allows them to take the ACT test instead or stay in school a fifth year, they were not always aware of those options. And Eakins' research confirmed another of her findings: Many students were steered into adult education when they reached 16, and few wound up with diplomas.

Valdes said she is looking to the new administration to address these issues. "I'm so excited about the direction where we're going," she said.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.

Comments
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18