All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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Dropout Prevention

Many adolescents who struggle with reading quit school. Others graduate from high school, but still lack the literacy skills needed to succeed in work and life. Articles in this section offer information on how to prevent students from dropping out and how to create effective intervention programs.

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Career Academies: Long-Term Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes, Educational Attainment, and Transitions to Adulthood

Kemple, J.J. and Willner, C.J. (2008). Career Academies: Long-Term Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes, Educational Attainment, and Transitions to Adulthood. New York: MDRC.

Career Academies have become a widely used high school reform initiative that aims to keep students engaged in school and prepare them for successful transitions to postsecondary education and employment. Typically serving between 150 and 200 students from grades 9 or 10 through grade 12, Career Academies combine academic and technical curricula around a career theme, and establish partnerships with local employers to provide work-based learning opportunities.

Since 1993, MDRC has been conducting a uniquely rigorous evaluation of the Career Academy approach in a diverse group of nine high schools across the United States. Located in medium- and large-sized school districts, the schools confront many of the educational challenges found in low-income urban settings. This report describes how Career Academies influenced students' labor market prospects and postsecondary educational attainment in the eight years following their expected graduation. The results are based on the experiences of more than 1,400 young people, approximately 85 percent of whom are Hispanic or African-American.

America's Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation's Future

Kirsch, I., Braun, H., Yamamoto, K., and Sum, A. Copyright ©2007 by Educational Testing Service.

According to America's Perfect Storm, current labor market trends, demographics, and student achievement data are combining to create a "perfect storm" that could inflict lasting damage upon the nation's economy and upon its social fabric, as well. Simply put, if the middle and high schools continue to churn out large numbers of students who lack the ability to read critically, write persuasively, and communicate effectively, then the labor market will soon be flooded with young people who have nothing to offer, and who cannot handle the jobs that are available. "[T]here will be tens of millions more adults," the ETS report concludes, "who lack the education and skills they will need to thrive in the new economy," raising the specter of joblessness and despair on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. If that future is to be avoided, the authors argue, the nation's secondary schools will have to begin immediately to help many more students to reach much higher levels of literacy than ever before.

Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic

Balfanz, R., Bridgeland, J.M., Moore, L.A., & Fox, J.H. (2010). Building a grad nation: Progress and challenge in ending the high school dropout epidemic. Washington, DC: America's Promise Alliance.

The U.S. graduation rate increased from 72% in 2002 to 75% in 2008. The state of Tennessee and New York City led the nation by boosting graduation rates 15% and 10%, respectively. The report reveals that the number of “dropout factory” high schools fell by 13% — from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008. (Most of the decline in dropout factories — 216 of the 261 — occurred in the South). While these schools represent a small fraction of all public high schools in America, they account for about half of all high school dropouts each year. Experts say targeting these high schools for improvement is a critical part of turning around the nation’s dropout rate.

Career Planning Begins with Assessment: A Guide for Professionals Serving Youth with Educational and Career Development Challenges

Timmons, J., Podmostko, M., Bremer, C., Lavin, D., & Wills, J. (2005). Career planning begins with assessment: A guide for professionals serving youth with educational & career development challenges (Rev. Ed.). Washington, D.C.: National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, Institute for Educational Leadership. Available at

How do you determine when a youth would benefit from assessment to determine the presence of a disability, and where can you find good career-related assessments? This guide, created by the National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth, answers those questions and contains in-depth information on the types and uses of assessment; special considerations when testing; and organizational concerns, such as collaboration agreements, ethics, confidentiality and legal issues. It also includes quick reference charts, tables, and sample forms that aim to save time for counselors, career advisors, and other professionals who work directly with youth.

Certificates Count: An Analysis

Complete College America. (2010). Certificates count: An analysis of sub-baccalaureate certificates. Washington, DC: Author.

This report calls for more emphasis and investment to be placed on sub-baccalaureate certificate programs as a means to help the United States improve its postsecondary education performance and stimulate economic and job growth. Sub-baccalaureate certificates are practical and often underutilized credentials that can provide graduates with an appealing combination of rapid postsecondary achievement and portable skills and knowledge.

Research shows that certificate programs, specifically long-term programs that take more than one year to complete, can generate the same earning potential as an associate degree that takes two years to complete. This is especially true of programs in the health care field, which constitute 43 percent of all certificates. In fact, the median earnings of long-term certificate earners are higher than those who have obtained associate degrees in some fields.

Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap

Swanson, Christopher B. Copyright © 2009 by Editorial Projects in Education Inc. All rights reserved.

According to Cities in Crisis, the graduation rate for U.S. urban school districts is 61% and the rate for students in the 50 largest cities in the U.S. is only 53%. The gap between suburban and urban districts is more than 14 percentage points. While the 50 largest schools districts educate roughly 13% of public high students in the country, these districts account for about 25% of students failing to graduate with a diploma each year.

Creating Postsecondary Pathways to Good Jobs for Young High School Dropouts

Harris, L. And Ganzglass, E. (2008). Creating Postsecondary Pathways to Good Jobs for Young High School Dropouts. Center for American Progress. Washington, DC.

Nearly 50% of minority youth drop out of school before receiving a diploma, while other data shows a willingness among these former students to improve their education and work skills. What steps should be taken to "recover" these dropouts and re-engage them in post-secondary education and job training?

Developing Early Warning Systems to Identify Potential High School Dropouts

Hepper, J. and Therriault, S.B. (2008). Developing Early Warning Systems to Identify Potential High School Dropouts. Washington, D.C.: National High School Center.

The implementation of an early warning system that collects data on key indicators of potential drop outs allows schools and districts to target interventions and monitor the effectiveness of dropout prevention programs.

Diplomas Count (2010)

Education Week (2010). Diplomas Count 2008. Washington, DC: Editorial Projects in Education.

This report from Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center finds that the nation’s graduation rate has dropped for the second consecutive year, following a decade of mostly solid improvements. Although the latest decrease is considerably smaller than that found the previous year, the report shows that, on a national scale, 11,000 fewer students will earn diplomas.

Three out of every 10 students in America’s public schools fail to finish high school with a diploma, the report finds. That amounts to 1.3 million students falling through the cracks of the high school pipeline every year, or more than 7,200 students lost every day. Most nongraduates are members of historically disadvantaged minority groups. Dropouts are also more likely to have attended school in large, urban districts and to come from communities plagued by severe poverty and economic hardship.

Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2006

Laird, J., Cataldi, E.F., KewalRamani, A., and Chapman, C. (2008). Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2006 (NCES 2008- 053). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Relative to their peers who completed high school, dropouts on average earn less income, and are more likely to be unemployed, in prison, or in poor health.

This report from the National Center for Education Statistics gives data about trends in dropout and completion rates since 1972 and examines the characteristics of both high school dropouts and high school completers.

Grad Nation: A Guidebook to Help Communities Tackle the Dropout Crisis

America's Promise Alliance. (2009). Grad Nation. Washington, DC: Author.

Grad Nation is a guidebook that provides a road map to help communities tackle the dropout crisis. It is designed to help communities develop tailored plans for keeping students on track to graduate from high school, prepared for college, work and life.

Graduating America: Meeting the Challenge of Low Graduation-Rate High Schools

Balfanz, R., Almeida, C., Steinberg, A., Santos, A. and Fox, J. H. (2009). Graduating America: meeting the challenge of low graduation-rate high schools. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.

This report from Jobs for the Future examines three major factors that should be considered when making choices about improvement strategies: patterns of geographic spread and concentration; state, district, and school characteristics; and socioeconomic, demographic, and political trends in the community.

The report’s authors make the following recommendations to the federal government:

  • Require states seeking ARRA “Race to the Top” funding to use analytic data on graduation rates and low graduation-rate high schools as part of their plans for turning around failing schools.
  • Build the capacity of states, districts, and schools to implement appropriate high school reform strategies.
  • Designate additional federal innovation funding for development and replication of effective school designs to use in transforming or replacing low graduation-rate high schools.
  • Target federal financing to high schools, districts, and states with the most pressing dropout problems.

High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2007

Cataldi, E.F., Laird, J., and KewalRamani, A. (2009). High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2007 (NCES 2009-064). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Some 73% of high school freshman nationwide graduated on time with their peers, but this four-year graduation rate in 2006 varied widely across states--from a low of 55.9% to a high of 87.5%, according to the report. Other key findings include:

  • Students living in low-income families were approximately ten times more likely to drop out of high school between 2006 and 2007 than were students living in high-income families.
  • One-year dropout rates have declined since 1972 among all racial/ethnic groups, although the decreases happened at different times over this 35-year period for these groups.
  • About 3.3 million 16- through 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential, as of October 2007.

High Schools as Launch Pads: How College-Going Culture Improves Graduation Rates in Low-Income Schools

College Summit. (2008).High Schools as Launch Pads: How College-Going Culture Improves Graduation Rates in Low-Income Schools. Washington, DC: Author.

A growing body of research suggests that students who work hard in high school do so because they connect their efforts with college and career rewards after high school. A college-going culture in high school not only increases the likelihood of college degree attainment, but also improves the likelihood that students will graduate from high school college-ready. This white paper provides policy recommendations at the school district, state and federal level to foster these “launch pad” high schools, with a focus on 1) improving the reliability of college participation data by high school; 2) establishing an objective long-term high school success measure; and 3) providing incentives for high schools to invest in building college-going culture.

Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation

National Women's Law Center and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. (2009). Listening to Latinas: barriers to high school graduation. Washington, DC: Author.

Latinas are dropping out of school in alarming numbers. Forty-one percent of Latina students do not graduate with their class in four years—if they graduate at all. Many Latina students face challenges related to poverty, immigration status, limited English proficiency, and damaging gender and ethnic stereotypes. And the high teen pregnancy rate for Latinas — the highest of any ethnic group — reflects and reinforces the barriers they face.

Making College and Career Readiness the Mission for High Schools: A Guide for State Policymakers

Achieve & The Education Trust. (2008). Making College and Career Readiness the Mission for High Schools: A Guide for State Policymakers. Washington, DC: Author.

This guide outlines "a new set of basics" for states to improve at the high-school level in order to prepare students for college and career: standards, course requirements, curriculum and teacher support materials, aligned assessments, and data/accountability systems.

Public School Graduates and Dropouts from the Common Core of Data: School Year 2008-09

Stillwell, R., Sable, J., and Plotts, C. (2011). Public School Graduates and Dropouts From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2008–09 (NCES 2011-312). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

This report includes counts of high school graduates for school year 2008–09 for 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Across the United States, the 50 states and the District of Columbia reported that a total of 3,039,015 public school students received a high school diploma in 2008–09, resulting in a calculated Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate of 75.5%. This rate ranged from 56.3% in Nevada and 62.0% in Mississippi to 89.6% in Vermont and 90.7% in Wisconsin. The median state AFGR was 77.0%. Some 607,789 H.S. dropouts were reported, resulting in an overall event dropout rate of 4.1%. The calculated dropout rate was the lowest for Asian/Pacific Islander students at 2.4% and White students at 2.7% The dropout rates for Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Black students were 6.0%, 6.3%, and 6.6%, respectively. The dropout rate was higher among males in every state.

Putting Middle Grade Students on the Graduation Path

Balfanz, R. (2009). Putting middle grade students on the graduation path. Westerville, OH: National Middle School Association.

This report found that sixth graders who failed math or language arts, or attended school less than 80% of the time, or received a poor final behavior grade in a core course had only a 10% to 20% chance of graduating on time. Fewer than 1 in 4 of these students with at least one of these risk factors would graduate within one year past on-time graduation. In high-poverty neighborhoods, in particular, research and school improvement work indicate that students' middle grades experiences have tremendous impact on the extent to which they will close achievement gaps, graduate from high school, and be prepared for college.

Raising Graduation Rates in an Era of High Standards

Steinberg, Adria, and Almeida, Cheryl A., (2008). Raising Graduation Rates in an Era of High Standards. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.

This report from Jobs for the Future suggests five reforms that state-level policymakers should implement to improve high school graduation rates and to align graduation standards with the demands of college and career.

Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma that Counts

Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2004, Achieve, Inc. Retrieved Oct. 17, 2007 from

This report of the America Diploma Project — a partnership of Achieve, Inc., The Education Trust, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation — outlines the English and math skills high school graduates must possess to be successful in college and career, and offers a set of benchmarks to help school systems establish graduation requirements that will ensure that a diploma signifies mastery of these competencies.

Reinventing Alternative Education: An Assessment of Current State Policy and How to Improve It

Almeida, C., Le, C. Steinberg, A. & Cervantes. R. (2010). Reinventing alternative education: An assessment of current state policy and how to improve it. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.

Of the 1.2 million students who drop out each year, and the others who continue to attend school but make little progress toward graduation, many will require creative alternatives in significantly different settings to help them get back on track toward a diploma and a postsecondary credential.

This report identifies seven model policy elements that states should incorporate in order to develop and improve alternative pathways for struggling students and former dropouts. Jobs for the Future performed this comprehensive 50-state policy scan to assess the extent to which state policy aligns with these model elements.

Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in the High School Core Curriculum

ACT. (2007). Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in the High School Core Curriculum. Retrieved Nov. 5. 2007, from

While more students are taking a rigorous core curriculum, too many still find themselves ill-prepared to handle college. ACT scores have consistently shown that students who take a core curriculum of four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies are much more likely than those who don't to be prepared for college. This report examines whether additional courses may be necessary and finds that schools should not simply add more courses, but improve the quality and rigor of the existing core course offerings. The also report contains "action steps" that states and schools can take to improve the core high school courses.

Six Pillars of Effective Dropout Prevention and Recovery: An Assessment of Current State Policy and How to Improve It

Almeida, C., Steinberb, A., Santos, J. & Le, C. (2010). Six pillars of effective dropout prevention and recovery: An assessment of current state policy and how to improve it. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.

This report identifies six model policy elements that frame a sound legislative strategy for dropout prevention and recovery, and it assesses the extent to which recent state policy aligns with these model elements. Overall, 36 states and the District of Columbia have enacted new dropout legislation since 2002. While some states have moved toward adopting comprehensive dropout prevention and recovery policies, nearly all of them have a long way to go. Nearly one-third of the nation — 14 states — have enacted no new laws aimed at increasing graduation rates in the past eight years.

Still At Risk: What Students Don't Know, Even Now

(2008) ©Common Core. All rights reserved.

This report reveals some damning statistics about U.S. teens' lack of knowledge of history and culture. For example, one-third do not know that the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of speech and religion and forty-four percent think The Scarlet Letter was either about a witch trial or a piece of correspondence.

The authors' attribute much of this ignorance to a curriculum focused on basic reading and math skills and preparation for high-stakes testing, but parental educational also has an impact on student knowledge-students with a college-educated parent scored significantly better than those without.

The Forgotten Middle

ACT. (2008). The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring that All Students Are on Target for College and Career Readiness. Iowa City, IA: Author.

This study from ACT suggests that preparation in upper elementary and middle school is the most important factor for college readiness. Eighth-grade academic achievement is a better predictor of college and career success than GPA or courses taken. Interventions at the high-school level come too late to help students catch up.

Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2008

Chapman, C., Laird, J., and KewalRamani, A. (2010). Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2008 (NCES 2011-012). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC. Retrieved [date] from

This report discusses the various rates used to study how students complete or fail to complete high school and provides data about trends in dropout and completion rates from 1972 to 2008, along with more recent estimates of on-time graduation from public high schools. Among the findings in the report was that in October 2008, roughly 3 million civilian noninstitutionalized 16- through 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential. These dropouts represented 8% of the 38 million non-institutionalized individuals in this age group in the U.S.

When Girls Don't Graduate We All Fail

National Women's Law Center. (2007). When Girls Don't Graduate We All Fail: A call to improve high school graduation rates for girls. Retrieved from

When girls drop out of high school, their earnings drop dramatically lower than those of women who have diplomas, or even of male drop outs. Also they are more likely to need government services, such as medical care. Who are these girls, why are they leaving high school, and what can be done to support them through finishing their education?

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