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Mark DiBella: Track Students Beginning in Ninth, Rather Than 12th, Grade for Clearer Picture of Long-Term College Success

By Mark DiBella August 1, 2017

YES Prep students. (Photo credit: Yes Prep)

In 2005, I was the principal of YES Prep North Central, YES Prep’s first replication campus, and I told my staff that we were going to be the best high school in the city. Four years later, we were listed in U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 100 high schools in the country and by Newsweek as a “Top 10 Miracle School” based on our Advanced Placement results.

Although I’m incredibly proud of these results, I reflect often on the sobering reality that only 54 percent of the Class of 2010 — only two campuses at the time — went on to graduate from college in six years. While this rate is higher than the national six-year college completion rates for black and Hispanic students, it is still 8 percent less than the college completion rate for white students. One of our core values at YES Prep is to eliminate educational inequity to advance social justice, and so we must take action to address this glaring inequity.

The 2017–2018 school year marks our 20th year as a high-performing charter school and a new step in the evolution of our thinking about college persistence. We’ve restructured our alumni support to drive college matriculation and persistence.

Now, a team of alumni advisers will support alumni who are in the lowest quartiles of their high school class, those who are matriculating into two-year colleges, and those who are struggling to matriculate. We’ve seen that our college dropout rates decrease significantly after the second year of college, and so we will extend our support for alumni through sophomore year.

Additionally, we will offer a mobile app to help alumni manage non-academic requirements such as financial aid deadlines and class registration. Lastly, we will launch a formal alumni association to strengthen the network of our nearly 4,000 YES Prep alumni.

We also must make strides to improve our work with our students in grades six through 12 to ensure that they are set up for success in college. Last year, we set a system-wide goal to quadruple the number of college-ready graduates by 2020, and have since created campus measures for GPA and SAT performance, the strongest predictors of college completion for our students.

To support this goal, our academic instruction teams and college counseling teams have formalized their collaboration to address our observed academic and SAT-preparation gaps. We have also committed to a strategic initiative to eliminate performance gaps between our campuses and are in the process of restructuring our staffing and our curriculum to support this plan.

When I was principal of YES Prep North Central in 2010, only 34 percent of our founding sixth-grade class went on to graduate from our campus. This unacceptably low persistence rate, a symptom of a “no-excuses” culture, needed to be addressed to align with our mission of increasing the number of students from underserved communities who graduate prepared to lead.

Along with other CMOs and innovative school districts, YES Prep has joined the United for College Success Coalition. As a member of UFCSC, we have agreed to track college completion by ninth-grade cohorts — rather than by the 12th-grade class. We feel that tracking data this way will paint a clearer picture of how we are serving our students in the long term. It’s also more consistent with our core value to eliminate educational inequity to advance social justice, our revised approach to student behavior, and the promise we share with families: If you choose YES, we will never unchoose you.

Mark DiBella is chief executive officer of YES Prep Public Schools.

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