The current freshman class includes over 100 students who did not have enough credits to pass ninth grade last school year, according to student information management system coordinator Joseph Bellino.
Blair's retention rate reflects a nationwide crisis, according to a recent study from Consortium for Equity in Standards and Testing at Boston College, which found that the freshmen retention rate has tripled over the past 30 years.
As of Sept. 7, 13.1 percent of the 937 freshmen at Blair did not receive the minimum five credits needed to pass the ninth grade last year, according to Bellino.
This percentage is more than a two-fold increase from that of the 2002-2003 school year, when freshmen retention reached an all-time low of 6.4 percent. It has now risen to one of the highest rates in recent years: Over the past five years, the average freshmen retention rate was 11.1 percent. The last time that more than 13 percent of freshmen did not receive five credits was during the 2001-2002 school year.
Research shows that getting held back in high school, particularly during the critical ninth grade year, greatly increases a student's chances of dropping out. Based on an analysis of research in 2002, the Center for Development and Learning concluded that "retention is one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropouts; holding a child back twice makes dropping out of school 90 percent certain."
Suzanne Harvey, the tenth-grade administrator responsible for second-time freshmen, is confident that these students will be able to graduate on time. Retained students will have to concentrate on the 21 basic credits, eliminate all electives from their schedules and enroll in night school or summer school programs, explained Harvey. "They will just have to pedal faster and harder," she said. "Of course we're concerned about students falling behind-that's why we are trying several different approaches to the problem."
Solutions put forth by the administration include the newly-implemented freshman wing and the Connections course, according to Harvey. The administration hopes that housing all freshman classes in the same area will create a sense of community among students. All freshmen not in the Communications Arts Program or the Magnet program are also required to take Connections, a course designed to "help students adjust to high school, improve test-taking skills and learn discipline," said Connections teacher Todd Stephens.
While Stephens says that "it remains unseen how Connections will affect the freshman failure rate," he has already received positive feedback from both teachers and students. "I know I've seen lots of students embracing the strategies they're learning in my class," he said.
In addition to strengthening academic connections, the PTSA has found that students who participate in extracurricular activities tend to feel more connected to the school community and therefore are motivated to work harder, according to Kathi Yu, PTSA Vice President in charge of academic achievement. "The problem is that those who are academically ineligible are those who most need to feel connected," she said.
A proposed initiative under review at the Board of Education would allow academically ineligible Downcounty Consortium students in the freshman class to remain eligible for participation in sports and other extracurricular activities if they choose to participate in a tutoring program. By agreeing to use a tutor or visit academic support when doing poorly in a class, a student would get one waiver per semester from maintaining a minimum 2.0 GPA, explained Yu.
The PTSA is currently working with faculty and the Student Government Association in order to help failing students get back on track, according to Yu. "We want to integrate our efforts to assure that these 122 students who don't have credits can graduate," she said.
Greg Ruffin, a sophomore who finished his ninth grade year with "three or four credits," said once his grades began to slip, it was hard to stay motivated. "I realized I wasn't going to pass, so I just gave up," he said. "I went to academic support a few times, and teachers gave me work, but they never actually explained it."
Ruffin's retention has nonetheless inspired him to work harder this year. "I'm starting this year with a fresh start. I'm going to night school, and I'm going to pass," he said.
Elizabeth Packer. Elizabeth is a senior. She drinks a can of pineapple juice a day and absolutely loves playing the name game. She is on her way to greater things, most notably college. More »