SPOKANE, Wash. – A Gonzaga University School of Education research team has submitted its final report commissioned by Priority Spokane. The research focused on the experience of middle school students, inside and outside the classroom. The report provides recommendations on school/community strategies that could improve graduation rates in Spokane high schools. The research was funded with a grant from the Spokane-based Inland Northwest Community Foundation (INWCF) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Following are the report’s major recommendations. The full report can be viewed online.
The team conducted the research in three phases: Phase I developed a list of evidence-based strategies and an analytical framework to evaluate the situation in Spokane. Phase II identified specific models and programs that have implemented the strategies, and developed cost estimates and a review of potential revenue sources to fund the strategies. In Phase III, the research team engaged in dialogue with local stakeholders in the schools and the local community who work with middle-school students to determine programs offered to middle-school students in Spokane Public Schools.
The initial phase of research generated three themes and strategies that had been shown to improve graduation rates: the Dropout Early Warning System (DEWS), High Academic Expectations and Achievement, and Social Support. Details on these strategies can be found throughout the online report. Using these themes and strategies as benchmarks, the team investigated specific model programs that used the strategies. The following recommendations emerged:
Dropout Early Warning System (DEWS)
The literature indicates broad support for development of a local data-based early warning system. The researchers proposed a longitudinal study of dropouts be conducted to build an accurate early warning system for SPS. The early warning system, once built, will help identify high-risk students, provide means to track students’ success, and serve as a source of rich data to help make decisions for community-based programs seeking to serve this population, the research team concluded.
High Academic Expectations/Achievement
The team found the notion of high academic expectations/achievement key to improving graduation rates. The report offers specific recommendations for the ongoing alignment with key reform templates, specifically the importance of teaming. Research on student achievement in math and English support another important recommendation regarding the value of providing enrichment and more time in these crucial content areas. The team also urges continuing development of Extended Learning Opportunities with an evaluation loop to determine the impact interventions (determined by a well-informed DEWS system) have as related to supporting on-track achievement.
The researchers concluded that creating an environment in which all SPS students can access the support and resources they need to succeed will take an effective DEWS, well-coordinated and integrated student support services at schools, and strong and creative collaborations between the schools and community partners. Some promising models are already present in the Spokane community to translate this data into effective and comprehensive interventions that integrate the evidence-based strategies listed in this report, the researchers said. Those models include: mentoring and adult advocacy; family engagement; safe and supportive environment; middle-school to high-school transition; and collaboration between the school and the community. The researchers recommend these models be supported and expanded where possible.
The Spokane community has shown an acute awareness of its graduation rate. Many school, government, business and community-based agencies have shown the willingness and capacity to address this issue. This report provides support for many of the evidence-based practices that are being enacted and developed toward this end of improving graduation rates.
Fifteen Spokane County leaders formed what has become Priority Spokane, a collaborative effort to make measurable change on community priorities. The effort has engaged more than 115 concerned citizens and leaders from business, government, nonprofit, health, education and foundations. With direction from Eastern Washington University, the Inland Northwest Community Foundation (INWCF), and chaired by INWCF President and CEO Mark Hurtubise, Priority Spokane collaborates to improve the economic vitality, education, environment, health and community safety of Spokane County and includes among its membership: Greater Spokane Incorporated; Spokane County United Way; Spokane Regional Health District; and Eastern Washington University.
Gonzaga’s research team includes lead investigator John Traynor, assistant professor of teacher-education; Jonas Cox, associate professor and chair of teacher-education; and Katie Kaiser, who coordinates Gonzaga’s mentoring programs. School of Education Dean Jon Sunderland [email@example.com] has overseen the project. For comments on this report from Gonzaga, please contact John Traynor at (509) 313-3632 or via e-mail [firstname.lastname@example.org]. For comments from Priority Spokane, please contact Steering Committee member: INWCF President and CEO Mark Hurtubise at (509) 624-2606 [email@example.com].