Georgia Works on Raising Graduation Rates for Students with Disabilities

On Tuesday, February 28, Dr. Laura C. Brown, Director of Georgia Learning Resources System (GLRS), presented a Webinar titled, “GraduateFIRST: The Dropout Prevention Destination.” During this event, Dr. Brown described Georgia’s GraduateFIRST program, identified ways schools can make improvements, shared tools and resources available to schools, and highlighted the successes of specific schools using the program.

GraduateFIRST has a two-fold mission aimed at (1) increasing graduation rates for students with disabilities who receive a general education diploma, and (2) decreasing the dropout rate for students with disabilities. To date, 145 schools within Georgia participate in the program, serving over 4000 students. To achieve its mission and to create alignment between state and local efforts, GraduateFIRST has established collaborative teams, such as the State Design Team and the Regional Support Network (GLRS). They also have hired Collaboration Coaches, who work with school-based team leaders to help students with disabilities and their families navigate through the various resources available. Collaboration Coaches ensure that students and parents have access to resources and support available at the school and in the community.

Using a framework provided by the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities (NDPC-SD), GraduateFIRST uses four phases of analysis to address issues that have negatively impacted the school completion rates of students with disabilities:

  1. Analyze Data;
  2. Identify Target Areas for Interventions;
  3. Develop Improvement Plan; and
  4. Implement, Monitor, and Evaluate. 

Phase 1 involves gathering data and asking probing questions to better understand trends among students. Phase 2 involves identifying and targeting specific students and determining the appropriate level of support. In Phase 3, the GraduateFIRST team can develop and, most importantly, refine the individual plan for students.  Finally, Phase 4 is where the team gathers the final data, reviews and shares the results. Throughout the entire process, the Collaboration Coaches provide encouragement and guidance.

Schools using this program have seen positive results. In 2009, the graduation rate of one high school’s students with disabilities subgroup was 43.8%; after implementation of GraduateFIRST, this rate rose to 85.6% in 2011. Progress has been made statewide as well. In 2008, only 37.7% of students with disabilities graduated. In 2011, the graduation rate for students with disabilities rose to 43.3%.

For more information, view the presentation slides and materials from the event on GraduateFIRST’s Web site:  

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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