The stats are in: Failure rate for high school courses drops dramatically

October 29, 2010

More than five years ago, NISD high schools launched a multi-pronged initiative to increase student success. Five years later, the results are stunning.

The percentage of students failing core courses in math, science, social studies, and English has dropped dramatically-double digits in many cases-from the 2005-06 school year compared to 2009-10.

For example, 31.4 percent of students failed Algebra I during the 2005-06 school year. Last year, the failure rate plummeted to 13.8 percent. And in 2005-06, almost a quarter of students failed Chemistry; last year, it was less than 10 percent. In other courses such as Government and Economics, already low failure rates were brought even lower (see table below).

"To have such a significant drop in the number of failed courses over a relatively short amount of time is absolutely phenomenal," Superintendent John Folks said. "It really validates our efforts."

Several years ago, NISD high schools began unrolling a cavalcade of interventions aimed at reducing failure rates, including credit retrieval, course retrieval, guided study hall, targeted tutoring, and "zero hour" courses held before the start of the school day.

Fewer students failing courses obviously is a good thing, but more importantly, it's a critical piece of a bigger goal - preventing students from dropping out.

Statistics show that the fewer courses a student fails, the less likely he or she is to drop out of school, said Sara McAndrew, Executive Director of Secondary Instruction.

Essentially, it starts a ripple effect: the fewer courses a student fails, the more likely he or she will advance to the next grade; and if a student advances to the next grade, the more likely he or she will graduate.

District data also show huge decreases over the past five years in the percentages of students not advancing to the next grade level. And the District's graduation rate has risen from 80 percent to 85 percent in the last three years alone.

"It's about having multiple opportunities to be successful in an atmosphere where careful use of data defines student progress," McAndrew said. "This is a system and a culture of high expectations."

The marked improvement also has been the result of hard work by students, teachers, and of course school leaders, Folks said.

"I want to compliment our high school principals on what they have done to focus on keeping kids in school," Folks said. "The initiatives they have undertaken to reduce failure rates have contributed greatly to the success Northside has had in achieving a very high completion rate."

Course Percentage of Failing Grades District-wide Amount of Improvement
2005-06 2009-10
Math
Algebra 1 31.4 % 13.8 % +17.6 %
Geometry 23.7 % 11.4 % +12.3 %
Math Model 16.4 % 9.4 % +7.0 %
Algebra 2 18.6 % 8.4 % +10.2 %
English
English 1 21.8 % 7.9 % +13.9%
English 2 17.2 % 7.0 % +10.2 %
English 3 12.2 % 7.4 % +4.8 %
English 4 4.9 % 3.8 % +1.2 %
Science
Biology 1 19.1 % 9.3 % +9.8 %
IPC 13.2 % 10.4 % +2.8 %
Chemistry 1 22.7 % 9.9 % +12.8 %
Physics 7.7 % 3.4 % +4.3 %
Social Studies
U.S. History 15.2 % 4.5 % +10.7 %
World Geography 19.6 % 8.5 % +11.1 %
World History 11.6 % 8.0 % +3.6 %
Government 7.8 % 1.7 % +6.1 %
Economics 5.2 % 1.7 % +3.5 %