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Report: Partnerships, Family Outreach Key to Rural Grad Rates

Rural high schools in New York with higher than average graduation rates are more likely to have several key strategies in place to develop and maintain family relationships, encourage community involvement, and intervene when students are at risk of dropping out, according to a new report.

Researchers at the University at Albany examined rural high schools with graduation rates much higher than the state average and those with rates at or close to the state average to determine which factors are common amongst the higher-performing schools, and possible contributors to higher graduation rates. The report, "The Value of People, Place and Possibilities: A Multiple Case Study of Rural High School Completion," found that the schools with high graduation rates tended to utilize more outside resources, such as collaborations with other districts, distance learning classes, and field trips. Those schools were also more likely to have programs available to address specific academic remediation needs of students. They also reported stronger relationships with families and community members.

Authors of the report attributed these strong relationships to the use of several outreach methods, such as employing a staff member to serve as a family liaison who can connect families with services, and offering monthly classes or activities for parents. The schools with higher graduation rates also reported consistent strategies for addressing student dropouts, such as holding weekly meetings with teachers to discuss students at risk, followed by meetings with those students.

The schools with average or lower graduation rates were less likely to have specific strategies and interventions in place to deal with students at risk of dropping out. They were also less likely to have extensive data collection procedures in place, such as having an effective diagnostic exam for students, or a data team that could analyze data and provide plans for remediating skills.

The report noted that community and family engagement is key for rural schools, because when students are engaged in their community, they can see how their academic skills are relevant in real life scenarios. According to the report, students then tend to perform better academically and may be more engaged in school. The researchers noted that previous studies "suggest a strong influence of school climate on rural students' decision to attend, engage with, and stay in school until graduation."

Nationwide, the average graduation rate for rural high school students is only slightly lower than that of suburban high schools, and higher than the rate at city schools, according to federal data. Despite that, rural students are less likely to pursue post-secondary education than their non-rural peers. One recent study found that rural Pennsylvania students are more likely to enroll in college than their city high school peers, but lag behind their suburban peers. The study found that low-poverty rural schools, as well as rural schools close to an urban area, had higher college enrollment and persistence rates. 

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