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How Struggling Schools Can Use Big Data To Become (Practically) Overnight Successes

One high school has dramatically boosted graduation rates in just three years.

Image via COD Newsroom/Flickr.


Schools are developing innovative solutions to improve graduation rates.

It isn’t uncommon for schools in low-income districts to struggle with test scores and graduation rates. But at Webster High School near Tulsa, Oklahoma, where 90% of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches, a new program is helping students graduate at higher rates and meet their true potential. In 2013, a little more than half of Webster students were making it to graduation. Fast-forward three years, and now school administrators are seeing 75% of seniors successfully earning their high school diplomas, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

To improve this much in so little time, Webster High adopted a multi-faceted, data-driven approach that considers the network of factors that affect the average student’s academic experience. City Year, a nonprofit that provides tutors and mentorship opportunities, came on campus to reinforce positive personal interactions on a daily basis. So did Communities In Schools, a nonprofit that links students with existing local resources. And on the data front, Talent Development Secondary got involved, using dropout rate statistics to help identify and protect at-risk kids.

All of these measures helped Webster High administrators authentically connect with low-income students and address their specific needs. By listening to so-called “problem” students instead of punishing them for failing to meet expectations, the school as a whole was able to make real progress. On top of the work of the participating nonprofits, the school principal reorganized class schedules to allow for longer study periods and less time spent commuting from class to class.

If there’s anything to learn from this success story, it’s that a series of seemingly small changes can make vast improvements in the lives of students in need.

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