For three years, the pandemic has disrupted and complicated nearly all facets of our lives. Now, as we work to get back on track, students across the RISE Network serve as a source of hope and affirmation that we can not only get back on track but continue to rise.
RISE creates networks where Connecticut public schools work together to help all students successfully transition to, through, and beyond high school. East Hartford, Meriden, and Hartford — founding partners in the RISE Network — have achieved double-digit gains in Grade 9 on-track rates (from 64 percent to 81 percent) and four-year graduation rates (from 78 percent to 89 percent) over the past seven years.
This December, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) released accountability data for the 2021-22 school year; this marked the first release of accountability data since 2018-19. New and interactive CSDE dashboards provide greater transparency around school and district performance statewide for key indicators. Across Connecticut, one of the indicators with the steepest declines was Grade 9 on-track achievement, meaning fewer high school students are on pace to graduate within four years.
Nearly one in five Grade 9 students did not earn the credits necessary to promote to sophomore year. The data offer a sobering reminder of the widespread impact of the pandemic on student outcomes; however, we also need to elevate and learn from bright spots across the state. RISE high schools in Manchester, East Hartford, Hartford, Meriden, Middletown, Naugatuck, Stamford, and Norwalk demonstrate how we can get back on track and help all students succeed.
Research from the University of Chicago shows that Grade 9 on-track achievement is the single best predictor of on-time graduation; however, too many students experience challenges as they transition into high school. Students navigate credits for the first time and acclimate to a new school environment with increased expectations. Recognizing the importance of Grade 9 and the difficulties experienced by too many students, RISE focuses heavily on freshman success, and the pandemic presented new challenges.
This past year, the number of incoming 9th-graders considered “high risk,” based on attendance concerns or low grades in 8th grade or both, had more than doubled after the remote and hybrid school year in 2020-21. Yet, through intentional and replicable strategies, RISE saw an increase in year-over-year on-track promotion across all demographics.
Among founding RISE partner schools in East Hartford, Meriden, and Hartford, we see the cumulative impact of investing in on-track achievement. Over the past seven years, RISE’s Grade 9 on-track rates have improved by 17 points from 64 percent in 2015 to 81 percent in 2022. Gains for multilingual and special education learners have reached 24 points, proving that all students thrive when provided with access to the resources and opportunities they deserve.
And consistent with the research, we have also seen four-year graduation rates improve from 78 percent to 89 percent. By staying the course and adapting to new needs and challenges presented by the pandemic, RISE schools saw an average increase from 77 percent to 81 percent in the past school year alone. This leaves us hopeful schools are already getting back on track. We should learn from the hard work, perseverance, and creativity of our students, educators, and caregivers.
So how have RISE partner schools achieved these results?
At its core, the RISE model is rooted in equity and data. Educators use data to understand student strengths and needs, and to then personalize and coordinate student support. Through on-track student conferences, on-track coaches, summer bridge programs, extended day tutoring, upperclassman mentoring, and more, schools create a culture of on-track success. And this continues through graduation.
We want all of our students to graduate from high school with a plan and the skills and confidence to achieve postsecondary success. For the first time in 2021, we supported our schools in tracking students’ postsecondary plans; at the time, only 80 percent of students graduated with a plan for their future. Last year, 99 percent of the Class of 2022 graduated with a plan, and the percentage of students planning to pursue higher education increased by 16 points year-over-year from 70 percent to 86 percent.
Getting our students back on track requires data, personalization, fierce optimism, and the relentless pursuit of better outcomes. It also requires our collective efforts.
One of the most powerful ingredients of the RISE Network is that we put our geographic differences aside to work together as one community advancing shared goals. Similarly, our statewide success depends on our ability to work together in new ways centered around student success.
For example, policymakers must secure resources to avoid pending cliffs in federal relief dollars, communities must lift up the education profession to preserve and diversify our teaching force, state and local public officials must give educators autonomy to innovate in response to student needs, and we must celebrate and replicate promising practices in schools across the state.
Let’s follow the lead of RISE students, families, and educators by getting back on track and continuing to rise to the occasion.
Emily Pallin is Executive Director and Lindsey Christiani, Communications Specialist, of the Connecticut Rise Network.