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Delaware Takes the Lead in Tackling College Readiness and Retention

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Delaware took a major step today toward improving low college graduation rates that are holding back the capabilities of our workforce nationwide. Governor Jack Markell and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy joined researchers from the Strategic Data Project (SDP), a program of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, to release findings on Delaware students' college readiness, enrollment and retention, presenting one of the first thorough analyses done for any state by SDP. The project continues the data-driven approach to student achievement that helped Delaware win the Race to the Top federal funding competition.

With the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reporting barely half of college freshmen in the country earning a postsecondary degree within six years and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems finding that only 20 percent of high school freshmen reach that important milestone, Delaware partnered with SDP to document and better understand outcomes among Delaware's young people. The state will use this analysis to inform policy initiatives to improve high school graduation, increase enrollment in college and other career pathway programs, and improve college retention rates in partnership with school districts and charter schools.

"To give Delawareans the best opportunity to succeed in the global economy and to build a workforce that attracts new and expanding companies, we must give our young people the best chance to graduate high school and successfully pursue further education and training," Markell said, "Our strategies to improve educational opportunities can only succeed if we fully understand the obstacles that prevent students from reaching their potential. The data released today gives Delaware an advantage in determining the most effective way forward."

Delaware College-Going Diagnostic: An Analysis of The First State Students' College Readiness is the result of work between SDP and the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) using six years of data from the DDOE and the National Student Clearinghouse. The diagnostic examines students' progression through high school, how well they stay on track for graduation, and whether they enroll and persist in postsecondary education.

Delaware Progress

Having acknowledged the national scope of the issues detailed in the report's findings, Delaware has taken steps to boost college and career readiness.

The diagnostic found some recent progress, including a steady increase over the past four years in the number of Delaware high school freshman who remain on track for graduation.

- In 2008, 19 percent of ninth-graders finished the year behind, as compared to 12 percent in 2012. During that time and in conjunction with their Race to the Top plans, several Delaware school districts have implemented "Ninth Grade Academies," summer preview programs and other initiatives that provide more individualized attention to freshmen and help with the transition from middle school to high school.
- Underscoring the importance of freshman performance, the data show that when students fall behind in credits by the end of the ninth grade, only 30 percent graduate on time and half drop out.
- The data support the importance of strengthening transitions from middle to high school and offering more support for freshmen: Most students who fall off track do so during their freshman year (70 percent) while a much smaller percentage fall off track in Year 2 (17 percent), Year 3 (8 percent) or Year 4 (5 percent).

Through legislation, executive action and its Race to the Top plan, the Markell Administration has implemented policies centered on four key components. These efforts deal with the issues raised by the report by helping current and future high school students become college and career ready.

- Raise expectations for all students with the Common Core State Standards and world-class curriculum, including the Governor's World Language Expansion.
- Expand high-quality early childhood education opportunities for our highest-need students with the Early Childhood Strategic Plan, recognizing that kids who enter kindergarten behind often cannot catch up by high school.
- Elevate the education profession with more meaningful educator preparation and professional development.
- Use data to drive decision-making and continuous improvement with top-rated data systems and statewide professional learning communities in which all teachers regularly meet in small peer groups to review student progress and share best practices.


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