HISD's 'Grad Lab' tackles dropout problem

February 16, 2010 5:07:02 PM PST
As part of a new initiative, this January all HISD high schools began offering a new alternative for students who have dropped out of high school or are in need of credit recovery. It's designed to reach not only those who have already dropped out but those students who are at risk of dropping out. It's called "Grad Lab" and it's designed for students who have failed three or more courses in a previous semester, students with excessive absences, students at any grade level who have been retained while in high school and those who have dropped out and want to return to school.

HISD Superintendent Dr. Grier spearheaded the initiative after seeing success with similar programs he implemented in Greensboro North Carolina and in San Diego. The dropout rate in San Diego was cut in half from 18 percent to 9 percent in just one year.

HISD's dropout rate is currently 18 percent. One of Dr. Grier's main priorities for HISD is to increase the graduation rate and lower the dropout rate.

Students enrolled in the program have access to a variety of online courses that can be completed at the school's "Grad Lab" or while at home. The $6 million centrally funded initiative provides computer labs with special software at all 46 high school campuses as well as graduation coaches at each of HISD's 27 comprehensive high schools.

The digital curriculum tests each student's knowledge in certain areas and provides coaches with specific information on what each student already knows and what they need to focus on in order to pass a class or recover a credit. Students focus on their weaknesses and take a test when the computer program and graduation coaches feel they are ready and likely to receive a passing grade. Students take tests during school hours with a graduation coach present.

Graduation coaches monitor student progress in a subject through a series of quizzes and are sent regular updates and emails on how long each student is spending on assignments. Progress emails are also sent to the student and the student's parents or other advocates if desired.

Students are already giving the program rave reviews because they say they can work at their own pace and are given more freedom and responsibility. They also love using the computers and say they can often relate to it better than a teacher lecturing in front of the class.

Many students in the program have already received credit or multiple credits for courses they have completed since the program started a little over a month ago. Each course on average takes about 40-45hours to complete.