Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Evidence Highlights the Importance of Early, Targeted, Holistic Intervention for "At-Risk" Youth

We at CFCC believe strongly in the importance of studying social issues, like truancy and dropout, to determine risk factors and address problems at their root causes, thereby preventing them from escalating and potentially destroying lives. In fact, one of the reasons for our starting the Truancy Court Program (TCP) is the research that shows that truancy is a predictor of a number of social problems, from delinquency to dropout to teenage pregnancy.

The Baltimore Education Research Coalition (BERC) recently published a report about early warning indicators of dropout in Baltimore City Schools that highlights the importance of holistic, early intervention approaches such as the TCP in order to prevent dropout and improve our city’s dismal graduation rates. The researchers studied the cohort of students who were set to graduate citywide in 2007 and identified indicators from sixth grade (school year 2000-2001) that were strong predictors of future non-graduation. They were able to identify four sixth grade indicators that accounted for over two-thirds of the city’s non-graduates, and all four of them are issues that the TCP encounters on a regular basis.

Not surprisingly, chronic truancy was the most prevalent predictor of non-graduation, but the BERC results reflected a deeper truth: truancy often interacted with other risk factors to seal a student’s fate. The BERC study focused on absenteeism, not tardiness, when analyzing truancy. It categorized students based on sixth grade figures. The findings made clear the importance of middle school attendance. Seventy percent of city students who missed less than 10 days of school in sixth grade went on to graduate. In comparison, only 51.4% of students who missed 10-20 days during sixth grade graduated within one year of their expected graduation date. This was a huge drop, and it still did not include those student defined as “chronic truants.” For the chronic truants (those who missed twenty or more days in sixth grade), their eventual graduation rate was even dimmer – 28.6% of the students graduated within a year of their expected graduation date.

The other three predictors for dropout identified by the study were being over-age for the grade, failing core classes, and having multiple suspensions. The researchers noted that these predictors interacted for many students, and the more sixth grade predictors one applied to a student, the less likely it was that he or she would graduate. To illustrate, over one-third of students who were chronically absent in sixth grade also had failed a core course. For students like those, with two or more indicators, only 20.4% went on to graduate. Most devastating of all was the combination of chronic absence and being over-age for grade – only about one in ten of those sixth graders went on to graduate.

The challenge, then, calls for a multifaceted, holistic approach to truancy that addresses all of these factors so that we can provide the education that Maryland’s Constitution promises to our children and can lead them toward graduation.