Dallas Schools Fight High Dropout Rates With Credit Recovery Programs

Dallas ISD uses evening and online classes to reduce the number of students dropping out of school each year.

Administrators are also learning how to catch teenagers before they fall behind.

After the pandemic disrupted the education of thousands of children, the district redoubled its efforts to expand its credit recovery programs to help students get back to graduation.

“Everyone doesn’t fit into the same mold,” Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said during a briefing on Thursday. “We need to have multiple ways to meet the needs of our students.”

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The district’s efforts can help them reduce their high dropout rate, which was over 12% for the class of 2021. The projected graduation rate for 2022 was approximately 11%.

Dallas’s four-year graduation rate of 80.1% is below the state and regional average, a statistic that has served as fodder for Republican politicians seeking to defeat the district.

DISD strategies provide flexibility for high school students who are seriously falling behind in credit as they try to catch up with their peers, officials said.

More than 6,000 students completed one or more courses through the district’s loan recovery programs last school year, according to district records. This represents a significant increase over the past few years, during which the number of students receiving credit in such courses has never exceeded 4,800.

“Part of it has to do with the recovery from the pandemic, but a lot of it is an expansion of all the programs we have,” said Dallas School Principal Tiffany Hewitt.

The opportunity to catch up was a key reason why a large number of students were able to cross graduation last year. Over the course of their high school career, approximately a third of 2022 high school students have completed credit rebuilding work to ensure they graduate on time, according to the district.

Approximately 150 students in fifth grade and above were also able to graduate in the fall. Some of them have gone through the Grad Lab program for students who have dropped out and want to come back.

These students—for example, 19-year-olds with freshman credit levels—can take individual courses in the evenings, structured according to their schedule.

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Meanwhile, district leaders are exploring the possibility of developing an “early detection system” for students just entering high school.

“We want to get to our freshmen before they need a credit rebuild,” Hewitt said.

Such indications may include the study of trends in student attendance. Did the child miss a lot of classes in eighth grade and seem to have followed the same path in high school?

“We can go ahead and anticipate that,” Hewitt said, noting that the program is still in the planning stages.

They are also working to provide 24-hour on-demand virtual learning for students who graduate non-traditionally. If a student balances credit recovery, work, and family responsibilities, they may need to log in for tutoring late at night or early in the morning.

“The goal is to get rid of work,” Hewitt said. “We hope that over time we can reduce the number of students who need this support.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and discussion of pressing educational issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative supported by The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottie Lyle, Texas Community Foundation, Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Didi Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, Meadows Foundation, Murrell Foundation, Solution Journalists Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab’s journalism.

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