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dropout prevention

Are D grades a dropout warning sign? It depends.

  • Rob Noroian
  • August 21, 2017

It’s common sense, really: Students who habitually eke out passing grades in middle school and the early years of high school are more likely to fail to receive credit in a class down the road.

And in periods in which the incidence of dropping out increases — the junior and senior cohort years — a failure to earn credit for a class can be a major factor in a student’s decision to leave school before graduation.

Does that mean we should pull out all the stops to offer additional support to students who earn a lot of Ds? It depends.

At Graduation Alliance, we work with students across the country who are struggling to get to graduation day. And, over time, we’ve noticed something vital about students who routinely earn just-barely-passing grades: There’s a big difference between a “hard-fought D” and a “disengaged D.”

Students who strive to complete work as assigned, but struggle to master concepts and skills, are at a different sort of risk than students who don’t engage but manage a passing grade nonetheless.

That’s why it can be helpful, as part of any early warning system, to ask teachers to qualify every barely passing grade. An early accumulation of “hard-fought Ds” could indicate the need for more academic support, while a buildup of “disengaged Ds” could mean a student is in need of additional social and emotional reinforcement.