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Graduation pathway options research summary

GraduateNew data has been collected (survey and focus groups) for the second year of a three-year project that will inform the State Board’s understanding of district perceptions regarding the new high school diploma graduation pathway options. The full, two-volume report is available on SBE’s website (Volume 1 | Volume 2). 

The research will let us know: 

  1. Whether changes to the existing eight pathways should be made and what those changes should be;
  2. The barriers schools and districts have to offering all of the graduation pathways and recommendations to eliminate or reduce those barriers for school districts;
  3. Whether all students have equitable access to all the graduation pathways and, if not, recommendations for reducing the barriers students may have to accessing all the graduation pathways; and
  4. Whether additional graduation pathways should be included and recommendations for what those pathways should be.

Overview of findings: 

  • Students, parents/caregivers, and educators agree there is a need to include pathway options that provide students with additional opportunities to develop life and employability skills. More than one-half of all respondents indicated that an Employability/Life Skills pathway should be added, with students having the highest response rate for adding such a pathway (69 percent). Feedback from parents/caregivers, students, and educators participating in open response questions and focus groups, regardless of students’ post high school goals or special education status, indicated this is an important and missing component of the high school graduation pathway options.
  • Students, parents/caregivers, and educators agree there is a need to include additional pathway options that provide students with more opportunities for mastery-based learning (MBL). Indeed, nearly half of all respondents indicated that a Mastery-Based Learning pathway should be added, with students having the highest response rate for adding such a pathway (56 percent). Feedback from parents, students, and educators participating in open response questions and focus groups, regardless of students’ post high school goals or special education status, indicated this is an important and missing component of the high school graduation pathway options.
  • Most educators surveyed (60 percent) indicated changes need to be made to the existing graduation pathways. Specifically, many educators communicated that more flexibility within the pathways was needed to allow students to explore both academic, personal, and future career interests. Educators also reported that more flexibility within the career and technical education (CTE) pathway was needed to offer this as a graduation pathway option and allow students to fully utilize this pathway. Graduation requirements in general were cited as an area needing change, and many stakeholders feel meeting a graduation pathway requirement is not necessary. Lastly, educator stakeholders also indicated changes need to be made to the pathways to address equity in terms of student access to the pathways.
  • In districts/schools that were not able to offer all the graduation pathways, Bridge to College and the CTE pathways were most consistently cited as being associated with the greatest number of barriers to offering them. However, while Bridge to College is considered one of several similar pathway options that falls under the Math/English Language Arts (ELA) umbrella, it is important to note that, for many students the CTE pathway is a unique course-based pathway and the only option they can utilize. Respondents that reported their district/school did not offer the CTE pathway reported that staffing, both numbers and qualification, was the main barrier to offering the CTE pathway. This was especially true for small districts, small schools, alternative learning experience (ALE) schools, remote schools, and other alternative learning programs.  
  • Additionally, only 39 percent of educator respondents reported their district/school had a CTE sequence that met the needs of students. Again, other data collected during first and second year indicates that the CTE pathway is the only graduation pathway option with requirements that some students can utilize to graduate, making the need to offer the CTE pathway crucial.
  • Of student respondents, 18 percent indicated they are “not good” or “not good at all” when it comes to math, 8 percent when it comes to ELA, and 33 percent when it comes to test taking. This is an import finding considering current research shows a correlation between higher academic scores in math and reading when students perceive themselves as being “good at” these subjects. Even when confounding factors are accounted for, a positive attitude toward math and reading is still a strong predictor of performance in these areas (Chen, et. al. 2018 & Hemmings, et. al. 2011). Of the current graduation pathway options in Washington, a large proportion require higher levels of math and reading proficiency and/or are assessment based.
  • A large proportion of students (24 percent) and parents/caregivers (36 percent) indicated that there are “zero” or “at least one” graduation pathway option that would help them (students), or their child/children, achieve their post high school goals. Additionally, another 24 percent of students were unsure if there was a graduation pathway option that would help them achieve their post high school goals.
  • While there are few pathways that offer meaningful preparation for post high school goals that are focused on attending a two-year college, entering the work force, entering a trade or trade related apprenticeship, or enlisting in the military, there is lack of alignment between students’ post high school goals and access to pathways that support those goals. Specifically, data collected on open-ended survey items and feedback reported during focus groups tells us that most graduation pathway options support post high school goals that include attending a four-year college or university.

Background about the project The three-year project was designed to gather both quantitative and qualitative data to give the Board an overview of feedback from people impacted by these pathways (students, educators, the education community at-large, and Washington families). The year two data gathered is intended to explore district stakeholders’ perceptions of the current graduation pathway options, including suggestions for changes, perceived barriers, equitable access, etc. In addition, information obtained from the year one findings of the project informed the project design and areas of deeper focus examined in the second year. Data gathered from years one and two will also provide additional insight in the final and third year of the project regarding potential strategies for addressing key findings.  

*Please note, that the perceptions of some, or all, of the survey respondents may or may not accurately reflect current state or local policy. Potential discrepancies between the perceptions of respondents and current state or local policy does not make such findings inaccurate. Rather, these types of findings are crucial, because they highlight current challenges in communication (partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic), implementation and policy perception. If we want to truly understand the perspective of stakeholders, then their perception of the truth, or what is true for them, is a deeply meaningful finding, especially when it comes to the perception of students.