Bellevue School District (BSD) is a high-performing district with a 93% graduation rate in the 2017-2018 school year; however, school leadership recognized the need to provide additional support for students who were at risk of not graduating. Many of these students are from underserved populations, including students of color. The academic challenge is one facet of the district’s equity efforts to address systemic inequality that presents obstacles to achievement for many students.
BSD originally partnered with Apex Learning to support long-term suspended or expelled students so they could continue with their coursework off site. The district expanded Apex Learning access to a credit recovery program where students work closely with Graduation Success Coaches to get back on track to graduation.
The dropout rate has decreased substantially, and BSD students have a resource that fits their diverse learning needs. Interactive, engaging content coupled with the support of the Graduation Success Coaches helps keep students motivated to succeed.
Keeping the Focus on Students
Although BSD has a high graduation rate, disparities are evident when the rate is broken out by race and ethnicity: 76% for Hispanic students and 82% for Black students versus 94% for their white classmates. The Equity Initiative at BSD is a comprehensive, district-wide effort that addresses obstacles to achievement for underserved students. Keeping the focus on students is a commitment to ensuring that all students, especially underserved students, have equitable opportunities to succeed in school and a voice in decisions that affect them. Shomari Jones, Director of Equity and Strategic Engagement, emphasized that “it is critical for educators to address racial issues in order to uncover personal and institutional biases that prevent all students, and especially students of color, from reaching their fullest potential.”
How Digital Curriculum Plays a Role
As part of its expansive Equity Initiative, BSD has created district-wide transformation through policy, curriculum, and programmatic focus on students in the bottom quarter academically. Digital curriculum is one key academic component of its mission “to serve each and every student academically, socially, and emotionally, through a rigorous and relevant education that is innovative and individualized.”
Graduation Success Coaches are an integral part of the effort to support underserved students. Currently there are four assigned to the high schools and one for the middle schools. They identify students who need extensive credit recovery or who are at risk of dropping out and provide one-on-one support, both academic and social-emotional.
With Apex Learning digital curriculum, students have access to rigorous instruction with scaffolds and supports that help them master content at their own pace. Graduation Success Coaches have a real-time view into student progress in Apex Learning so they can keep students motivated and moving forward. Mr. Jones cited one student who was several credits behind in his sophomore year yet was able to get caught up and graduate on time. His Graduation Success Coach was an important advocate and supporter, and digital curriculum provided the resources he needed to get back on track. Students who need intensive remediation can also attend summer school where they work alongside their Graduation Success Coaches in all-day sessions.
Courageous Support for Equity
Mr. Jones stresses the importance of providing an equitable way to support the 7% of students who don’t graduate and close their achievement gaps. The Equity Initiative at BSD is a multi-pronged effort that encompasses curriculum and instruction, student support, adult learning, and community engagement. “It’s important for the district to identify their role and responsibility to provide students the support they need to graduate. Apex Learning is one tool to help level the playing field.”