Students who drop out of high school are at increased risk of a range of negative social and economic consequences, including lower earnings and poorer health. To reduce dropout rates and lessen these negative consequences, districts around the country are using early warning indicators to identify and provide supports for students at risk of dropping out. Typically, these early warning indicators include some combination of attendance, course failures, grade point average, and suspensions or expulsions. It is not clear whether these commonly used early warning indicators work equally well for English learner students. National data suggest that English learner students drop out of high school at higher rates than other students do. English learner students are a heterogeneous group that includes students born in the United States, new immigrants, and refugees, all with varying degrees of prior exposure to English and, for those not born in the United States, different education experiences prior to arrival. Some English learner students start kindergarten in this country, while others do not arrive here until they are in high school. Some English learner students may receive only two or three years of English language services, while others may receive eight or more years. Current national data do not capture the variation in dropout and graduation rates for those different types of English learner students. This study compares data for a particular group of students--those who were classified as English learner students at any point in their K-12 education (referred to as "ever-English learner students" in this report) with data for students who were never classified as English learner students (referred to as "never-English learner students"). It also compares outcomes across subgroups of the ever-English learner student population. Specifically, the study addresses how the graduation and dropout rates of different subgroups of ever-English learner students compare with one another and with those of never-English learner students. And it examines whether two early warning indicators used to predict dropping out (six or more absences in grade 9 plus at least one course failure in grade 9, and at least one suspension or expulsion in grade 9) are accurate and useful indicators for different groups of ever-English learner students compared with never-English learner students. The students in the study are from six school districts in the south King County area of Washington state. The districts are part of the Road Map Project, a cradle-to-career initiative that seeks to double the number of students on track to graduate from college or earn a career credential between 2010 and 2020. As part of the initiative, the districts have been using a common set of early warning indicators since 2011. The initiative also has a work group focused on the large number of English learner students in the region. Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest has partnered with the work group since 2012 to use data and evidence to better understand the needs and challenges of English learner students and to inform decisions about policy and practice. The study findings highlight notable differences in graduation and dropout rates among subgroups of English learner students. Key findings from the study include: (1) Students who had ever been English learners had four-year graduation rates that were 9.5 percentage points lower and dropout rates that were 0.7 percentage point higher than those of students who had never been English learners; (2) Certain subgroups of English learner students had considerably different graduation and dropout rates from those of other English learner students; relative to long-term proficient English learner students, newcomer English learner students' four-year graduation rates were 33.8 percentage points lower and their dropout rates were 5.8 percentage points higher; and (3) The Road Map Project's early warning indicators, originally developed for Seattle Public Schools, were unable to accurately identify many future dropouts, especially among newcomer English learner students. Given that the accuracy of the Road Map Project indicators varied for subgroups of English learner students and may be evidence of the need to select and validate indicators specifically for the population of interest, the Road Map Project and other states and districts may want to examine the accuracy of their own indicators for different student populations. If early warning indicators are weaker for a specific subgroup of English learner students, then teachers, counselors, and others may want to monitor the needs of that group in other ways. The following are appended: (1) Data and methodology; and (2) Supplemental results.
Graduation and Dropout Rates