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Legislature Examines Ways to Increase High School Graduation

May 10th, 2017

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As the end of the 79th Session of the Nevada Legislature draws near, legislators from both sides of the aisle and in both houses continue work on passing several pieces of legislation that aim to help increase student achievement in Nevada.

While the Silver State has shown some progress in elevating student outcomes, especially since the $800 million investment in education during the 2015 legislative session, Nevada is frequently ranked last—or nearly last—on a number of national educational indicators, including high school graduation rates and proficiency rates in reading and math for middle and elementary school students on standardized tests.

Many of these bills underscore the changing nature of the workforce in our state. Recent estimates indicate that by 2020, roughly 60 percent of jobs will require some sort of post-secondary degree or certificate, but less than a four-year degree (“middle skilled jobs”). As noted by the Nevada Department of Education, “Middle skilled jobs are the majority of the in-demand occupations and those without a high school diploma are excluded from 90 percent of the in-demand occupations.”

However, enrollment in post-secondary education and college attainment contains to lag in the Silver State. In fact, college attainment (the percentage of Nevadans with a higher education degree) is well below the national average. Only one-third of our Silver State’s population has post-secondary education short of a bachelor’s degree. Given that 60 percent of jobs in Nevada (by 2020) will require post-secondary education short of a four-year degree, which only one-third of our population has currently, the Silver State faces a significant skills gap.

Data reveals that most of our students are not graduating college and career ready. Year over year, the State has reported low high school graduation rates, benchmark test scores, and college matriculation for high school graduates. Furthermore, the state’s high school graduates who do enroll in a college or university are frequently unprepared for the rigor of postsecondary academics, which has led to high remediation rates at Nevada’s institutions for higher education.

With these facts in mind, legislators are looking to pass a variety of bills that specifically target the needs of students in our state. This post highlights the legislation aimed at boosting the low graduation rates in Nevada.

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Assembly Bill 7 (Read the Guinn Center’s policy note, “High School Graduation Research.”)

Our research on high school graduation in other states echoes the amendment to AB7 proposed by the Department of Education. A number of other states, including several states with similar demographics to Nevada, have seen significant improvement in their graduation rates and post-secondary outcomes for students after implementing multiple graduation pathways. This is especially true when these pathways are aligned with the rapidly developing technical fields that we are also seeing in Nevada and when these pathways offer students, especially low-income students and student of color, opportunities to take dual enrollment courses at local institutions of higher education.

Florida

In Florida, the CTE pathway has had a significant impact on the educational outcomes for male and low-income students. These populations were found to be more likely to obtain an industry certification or enroll in postsecondary education if they participated in the program.   The diversified pathways in Florida also enabled more students to take dual credit courses, and students who take dual enrollment are also less likely to require college remediation.

Finally, Florida has also offered incentives to school districts and CTE teachers to bolster the growth of these programs. The incentives are based on the pass rates of students on CTE end-of-program assessments.

Colorado

Our neighbor, Colorado, created Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH). The program pairs a high school with a local community college or a local high-growth industry. Students in P-TECH schools begin in ninth grade and graduate after six years in fourteenth grade having obtained both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in a STEM field. P-TECH programs place special focus on students in at-risk populations, especially students of color and those from low-income areas.

California

In California, the California Partnership Academies (CPA) creates small CTE-focused academies for tenth through twelfth graders at an existing public high school. These academies place special emphasis on career preparedness and have partnerships with local businesses and postsecondary institutions. These small learning communities are housed within a larger high school and have a proven track rate of success. Like in Colorado, the academies are geared specifically toward at-risk populations. Nearly all of the 278 schools that have academies rank below average on the State’s Academic Performance Index. Eighty-four percent of students in academies are students of color, a rate significantly higher than in the general tenth through twelfth grade high school population in the State. Academy students have higher overall attendance rates, exit exam pass rates, and graduation rates than their peers. The 2010 academy cohort had a 95 percent graduation rate, 10 percent higher than the state average.

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Senate Bill 19

Current Outcomes in Nevada

Dual enrollment programs have been shown to increase graduation rates and postsecondary enrollment and decrease dropout rates among high school students. Implementing a dual enrollment policy like the one described in SB19 could help offset some of these challenges in Nevada.

Outcomes for Dual Enrollment Participants

Evidence for the positive impact of dual enrollment policies has been shown in other states. For example, in Florida, students who enroll in dual enrollment courses perform better than their peers who did not pursue this option when they enter college. In college-level algebra, 91.5 percent of dual enrollment graduates earned a grade of a C or better. This rate is nearly 20 percent better than for high school graduates who took college-level algebra without having previously enrolled in a dual enrollment program. Likewise, 94.9 percent of dual enrollment graduates earned a C or better in freshman composition, a rate more than 10 percent higher than the 83.3 percent of non-dual enrollment graduates in the same course.

The CTE component of Florida’s dual enrollment program has had a significant impact on the educational outcomes for male and low-income students. These populations were found to be more likely to obtain an industry certification or enroll in postsecondary education if they participated in the dual enrollment program. A study conducted by the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of Minnesota found that CTE dual enrollment students had a 98.99 percent graduation rate in 2006, more than 10 percent higher than the overall graduation rate of 88.43 percent for the Florida sample in the study.

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Senate Bill 66

Emerging Workforce Demands

In the January 2015 State of the State address, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval unveiled his ambitious legislative agenda, which included, among other items, an investment of more than $800 million in K-12 education. Collectively, his legislative priorities were designed to build the infrastructure for a New Nevada, characterized by a diversified economy in high growth sectors (e.g., advanced manufacturing), a skilled workforce, and stronger communities.

Recent estimates indicate that by 2020, roughly 60 percent of jobs will require some sort of post- secondary degree or certificate, but less than a four-year degree (“middle skilled jobs”). As noted by the Nevada Department of Education, “Middle skilled jobs are the majority of the in-demand occupations and those without a high school diploma are excluded from 90 percent of the in-demand occupations.”

Creating opportunities for students to participate in work-based learning can help give them practical skills, knowledge, and experience to pursue careers in these emerging industries after leaving high school.

Work-Based Learning Has Positive Effects in Other States

Evidence for the positive impact of work-based learning has been shown in other states. In Mississippi, high school students who choose to pursue a Career and Technical Education diploma are required to participate in work- based learning, which includes internships, community service, and community based work programs. These experiences have contributed to the outcomes for CTE student in the state. Students on the career pathway in Mississippi had a graduation rate of 85.0 percent in 2014, 7.4 percent higher than the statewide rate of 77.6 percent. Of these students, 90.5 percent placed into advanced education, employment, or the military after graduation.

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