Research targets middle schools
Studies seek preventive strategies for dropouts
Seventh- and eighth-graders are the focus of two local studies on improving Spokane Public Schools’ 61 percent graduation rate.
Research on the topic has increased nationally because those grades are considered educators’ last, best chance to intervene before a student drops out.
Gonzaga University’s School of Education will lead one of the Spokane studies. An advisory group appointed by Spokane Public Schools’ board will guide the other.
“A lot of studies out there are saying that middle school students are going into high school unprepared,” said Nancy Stowell, Spokane Public Schools superintendent.
A Johns Hopkins University study last year found that “students who fall behind in reading and math in middle school are more likely to fail ninth grade, and ninth-grade failure is one of the strongest indicators that a student will ultimately drop out.” Independent studies by research groups in New York and Georgia show similar results.
The school board’s study will focus on preparing students for success in high school and beyond. The advisory committee – a group of citizens and educators – will look at how to improve the middle school system.
Gonzaga is set to begin a research project, funded by a $50,000 grant, that will focus on those who interact with middle school students, including health professionals and social groups.
The grant money for the study was raised by Priority Spokane – a group of community and civic leaders who determined education is the best way to improve the Lilac City. Gonzaga was selected to conduct the study after the group reviewed several proposals.
The goal of the three-phase research is to find ways to improve the middle school experience in and out of the classroom in order to reduce Spokane Public Schools’ dropout rate. The research could lead to changes at the two-year schools.
“We all have to realize it’s not just parents. It’s not just teachers. We have created the community collectively, all of us, that graduates only 60 percent,” said Mark Hurtubise, president and CEO of the Inland Northwest Community Foundation and a member of Priority Spokane’s steering committee. “That’s a serious issue. These are lost children.”
Dropout rates are difficult to assess, in part because there is no standard way to track students who leave school and whether they continue their education. The percentage of Spokane students who graduate from high school in four years is 60 percent, compared with 72 percent statewide, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Hurtubise said the research is expected to be completed in early summer. “In early fall, we will have a public conference to share the results with the region, and hopefully an agreed-upon plan.”
Said Stowell, “The question will be about implementation, both the ones that are free and the ones that cost money, and what resources will be needed.”