Keeping Students on the Path to Graduation and Postsecondary Success

By Melissa Mellor, Vice President

The pandemic’s deep impact on students is clear. After more than a decade of progress, high school graduation rates are down in many locales, while course failure, chronic absenteeism, and students’ well-being needs are up. Enter the GRAD Partnership for Student Success, a national effort to help schools, districts, and communities get students back on the path to graduation and postsecondary success.

The Partnership — a coalition of nine education organizations — is working to expand the use of next-generation early warning systems, also known as student success or on-track systems. These systems use predictive data, such as attendance rates and course grades, to identify students who are beginning to disengage from school. Based on this data, the systems alert educators to students who could benefit from tailored supports, such as tutoring or counseling, to get them back on track before it’s too late.

Many districts and schools use early warning systems but they have yet to become a regular practice. GRAD Partnership plans to change this and maximize its impact based on lessons learned about how these systems work best. One key element of next-generation early warning systems is that they prioritize school connectedness and caring relationships.

“When kids feel connected to school, have an adult who cares about and knows them as a person, have supportive peers, feel welcome for who they are…those kids will fight to go to school and to succeed because it’s such a positive environment,” said Robert Balfanz, research professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and director of the Everyone Graduates Center, one of the nine organizations leading GRAD Partnership.

While the need for these systems is great, educator capacity across the country is strained. How do you reach overwhelmed and overworked educators with a vital message about a system that offers the tools and team-based support they need to bolster their capacity? Hatcher is helping GRAD Partnership answer this question, beginning with extensive audience research.

We’ve conducted social media and earned media audits to learn whether and how these systems and related topics are being talked about across the country. We’re also working with our partner, OpinionWorks, to survey and interview teachers, principals, district leaders, and community partners to learn about their experiences with and perceptions of early warning systems. Based on our findings, we’ll help GRAD Partnership refine its messaging about the value of these systems and determine the best ways to reach its audiences.

GRAD Partnership’s success means thousands of students who might have disengaged from school persist to graduation with the knowledge and skills they need for successful futures. With GRAD Partnership leaning into building capacities and sparking motivation for learning, it’s hard to think of a timelier, or more worthy, cause.