This two-day, invitation-only event, hosted by REL West in partnership with the Southwest Comprehensive Center and National High School Center, brought together state education agency teams from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah to consider current research and resources to apply to their ongoing efforts to improve graduation and postsecondary outcomes for high school students.

For more information, please contact:

Sheila Arredondo


Improving Graduation Rates and College Access in the Southwestern Region

April 08, 2010 - April 09, 2010

Phoenix Airport Marriott
1101 North 44th Street
Phoenix, Arizona 85008

Part of a U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES) initiative to bring evidence to practice, the event was designed to deepen participants’ understanding of how to recognize and apply good research evidence to improving graduation outcomes and postsecondary access. A research-based practice guide published by IES framed team discussion and planning activities each day.


Neal Finkelstein, a senior research scientist at WestEd and member of the practice guide panel, presented the five recommendations in Helping Students Navigate the Path to College: What High Schools Can Do — strategies that high schools can implement to better prepare students for college:

  • Offer courses and curricula that prepare students for college-level work, and ensure that students understand what constitutes a college-ready curriculum by 9th grade.
  • Utilize assessment measures throughout high school so that students are aware of how prepared they are for college, and assist them in overcoming deficiencies as they are identified.
  • Surround students with adults and peers who build and support their college-going aspirations.
  • Engage and assist students in completing critical steps for college entry.
  • Increase families’ financial awareness, and help students apply for financial aid.

Russell Rumberger, professor of education in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Santa Barbara and director of the UC Linguistic Minority Research Institute (UC LMRI), and practice guide panel member, presented six recommendations in Dropout Prevention — strategies that have been shown to contribute to students' staying in school, progressing in school, or completing school:

  • Utilize data systems that support a realistic diagnosis of the number of students who drop out and that help identify individual students at high risk of dropping out.
  • Assign adult advocates to students at risk of dropping out.
  • Provide academic support and enrichment to improve academic performance.
  • Implement programs to improve students’ classroom behavior and social skills.
  • Personalize the learning environment and instructional process.
  • Provide rigorous and relevant instruction to better engage students in learning and provide the skills needed to graduate and to serve them after they leave school.

Nikola Filby, associate director of REL West at WestEd, provided an overview of the structure and content of the Doing What Works website (dww.ed.gov). Doing What Works provides resources that support the evidence-based recommendations contained in the WWC practice guides for educators at all levels of the system.

Interactive Sessions

Following the presentations each day, participants had opportunities to engage in question-and-answer sessions with presenters, interactive discussions, and state team planning to apply current research and resources to their ongoing efforts to improve graduation and postsecondary outcomes for high school students.

A panel consisting of one representative from each state concluded each day’s session by reflecting on questions such as:

  • From your perspective, to what extent are the practice guide recommendations being implemented in your states? In what ways?
  • What are examples of some barriers/roadblocks you’ve seen? What are some practical solutions to overcoming such roadblocks?
  • What kinds of support do schools need to successfully implement these recommendations? To what extent are these supports already in place? What are some next steps?

How can we help you?

Do you want to know the latest research or where to turn for information? This free collaborative service from the 10 RELs provides references, referrals, and brief responses to education questions. To ask a question, visit the national portal and select REL West -- or directly.

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