School’s Almost Out for Summer – but not for educators committed to Freshman Success

May 15, 2018 by

Educators in Portland know how tough it can be to keep students engaged when the weather in this city begins to turn warm. But as the school year winds down and the tantalizing promise of summer edges ever closer, educators from six metro-area districts, including all of the comprehensive high schools in Portland, attended an intensive two-day training, offering a deep dive into the data and research behind one of the most widely-credited approaches for improving graduation rates.

Facilitated by staff from the University of Chicago and sponsored by Stand for Children and the Oregon Center for High School Success, Freshman Success Collaboratives will roll out across the state this summer, with hundreds more educators scheduled to participate.

Freshman Success programs call for a laser-like focus on the ninth-grade experience. Staff teams comprised of teachers, counselors and other specialists work intensely with students, and their families to make sure they are passing core classes and attending school regularly as researchers found that GPA and attendance are the two strongest predictive indicators of later high school graduation.

In Chicago, a focus on the Freshman year has resulted in a graduation rate that has grown more than 20 percentage points over the last ten years. And unlike high-profile turnarounds in Atlanta and Washington D.C. that were marred by cheating scandals, Chicago’s longer-term, steady progress has brought an increasing number of inquiries from districts around the country, eager to replicate its success. Stand for Children, the organization that spearheaded the effort to pass Measure 98, created the Oregon Center for High School Success (CHSS) to provide a cost-free resource for schools and districts to help guide them through implementation.

CHSS brought representatives from seven school districts to a weeklong training in Chicago last Spring. Centennial High School, in the Gresham-Barlow School District, began adding Freshman Success-specific interventions like counseling staff in the 2014-15 school year, and is beginning to see early results. An upward trend in its overall graduation rate, from 83.2 to 84.7 percent in 2016-17, mirrors a corresponding increase in the numbers of ninth graders deemed on track for graduation, from 82.1 to 84.7 percent in 2016-17.

CHSS is now working to establish a Freshman Success Network – a five-region group of schools and districts throughout state that will receive tailored coaching and ongoing assistance on the tenets and practice of Freshman Success. Portland’s collaborative trainings will be replicated for those four additional regions of the state this summer, facilitated by a group of Oregon-based staff.

While Freshman Success proponents are careful not to portray their work as an educational silver bullet, a collective buzz was evident at the end of the second day of the Portland training. Despite the temptation of warm sunshine and bright blue skies, groups of educators in Portland’s training last week lingered past the dismissal bell, planning intently for students transitioning to high schools this fall.