School Graduation Resources

This section includes descriptions and electronic links to a variety of resources schools can use to help increase the number of students who complete school with a high school diploma. Areas include programs and strategies for prevention, intervention, and reengagement; publications and resources; students of color; students with disabilities; other special populations; and national organizations.

High School Graduation and Students with Disabilities - DPI Information Update Bulletin No. 10.08


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 Academic and Career Planning

This website contains resources to support district implementation of academic and career planning (ACP).  Academic and Career Plans (ACPs), often referred to as Individualized Learning Plans, present an opportunity to improve academic achievement and post-secondary success for all students. Research validates how ACPs improve student motivation and engagement; foster increased school-family communication; aid goal setting, planning, and achievement; and enhance transitioning after high school.

Community Learning Centers

Community learning centers provide students with academic enrichment opportunities and additional activities designed to complement their regular academic program. These centers also offer literacy and related educational development for families of these students. Community Learning Centers, which can be located in elementary or secondary schools or other similarly accessible facilities, provide a range of high-quality services to support student learning and development, including tutoring and mentoring, homework help, academic enrichment (such as hands-on science or technology programs), community service opportunities, as well as music, arts, sports, and cultural activities. At the same time, centers help working parents by providing a safe environment for students when school is not in session. The Department of Public Instruction administers a grant program to establish and support community learning centers.

Comprehensive School Counseling Programs 

The ultimate goal of a comprehensive school counseling program is student success. The program's design, delivery, and content are dedicated to enhancing the ability of all students to fully utilize the educational opportunities available to them. The PreK-12 program is delivered through direct and indirect services designed to address three domains of student development: academic, personal/social, and career.

Comprehensive school counseling programs are integral to the school's educational environment and partner with other academic and behavioral initiatives to effect positive changes in student achievement and behavior. Professional school counselors plan the comprehensive school counseling program and facilitate its delivery in collaboration with school administrators, other professional educators, and community members to produce measurable results. Resulting positive changes include increased student achievement, an improved graduation rate, better attendance, reduced disciplinary referrals, completed individual learning plans, and increased student participation in the community.

Early and Middle College High Schools

Early and middle college high schools partner with institutions of higher education to offer all enrolled students an opportunity to earn an Associate’s degree or up to two years of college credits toward the baccalaureate while in high school, as well as a high school diploma. The initiative is based on the assumption that engaging under-represented students in a rigorous high school curriculum that is tied to the incentive of earning college credits will motivate them and increase their access to and success in additional postsecondary education after high school.

Fostering Connectedness to School, Peers and the World of Work

In 2008, 93.2% of students participating in Career and Technical Education graduated from high school compared to 80.9% of all non-participating students (Career and Technical Education Enrollment Reporting System, 2008). Connections between students and their schools, peers and the world of work can be encouraged through the following strategies:

  • create small personal learning environments for low-income and minority youth,
  • provide gender- and culturally-specific counseling and teaching for minority males,
  • provide mentoring programs for low-income minority students,
  • improve college and career counseling, including sharing information on college costs and other hurdles to achieving goals,
  • link students to employers and colleges through direct experience, and
  • provide support groups for foster and minority youth.

Work-based learning programs like the Employability Skills State Certificate, Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship Program, State Certified Skills Co-op, and Job Shadowing connect students with real world jobs and provide them a structured program to improve their career readiness.

A Developmental Perspective on College & Workplace Readiness - This report provides a developmental perspective on the competencies young people need to be ready for college, the workplace, and the transition to adulthood.   

Freshman Transition Programs

Students’ experiences in their first year of high school often determine their success throughout high school and beyond. However, more students fail ninth grade than any other grade. Many research-based practices and policies are available to states, districts, and schools committed to supporting and guiding smooth transitions into high school. Resources and strategies include aligned standards and curriculum, team teaching, catch-up coursework in the first semester using the double block schedule, student advisories, at-risk benchmarks, academic benchmarks, and adolescent literacy initiatives.

Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS)

Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) is a systemic approach to proactive, school-wide behavior based on a Response to Intervention (RtI) model. PBIS applies evidence-based programs, practices and strategies for all students to increase academic performance, improve safety, decrease problem behavior, and establish a positive school culture. Schools implementing PBIS build on existing strengths, complementing and organizing current programming and strategies.


Service-learning is a teaching method that engages students in solving problems within their schools and communities as part of their academic studies. Research has shown that service-learning has an enduring positive impact on students' academic achievement, civic engagement, and personal and social development. Service-learning is an effective instructional pedagogy which asks students to use their abilities and skills to make their school, local, and global communities stronger. It is a key strategy in developing 21st century skills which will lead to a prepared workforce and a civically engaged citizenry.

Wisconsin Employability Skills Certificate

The intent of the Wisconsin Employability Skills Certificate Program is to recognize a student's mastery of employability skills valued by employers, to help students explore a career interest, and to provide a state credential of student mastery of employability skills. The main strategy is to provide, within state guidelines, state certification of a broader range of local district school-supervised work-based learning programs. The employability skills in this program have been identified through the U.S. Department of Labor's Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) in partnership with educators, business, industry, and labor representatives.


Intervention Programs & Strategies

Alternative Education
School districts may develop programs that help all students to be successful. Program ideas range from early intervention for at-risk learners that start the student off on the right track to programs for students who have lost their way entirely. For the student who has lost his or her way, this might include jail or detention-based education, credit acceleration, a behavior program or just an opportunity to come back to school and graduate. While the short-term goal of alternative education is to meet the needs of some students, the long-term goal must be to identify successful alternative education strategies and use these strategies as a basis for improving the learning opportunities for all children.

The GED Option #2 allows authorized school districts to use the GED test battery to measure proficiency in lieu of high school credit for students enrolled in an alternative education program. A student who passes the GED tests and completes the other requirements for graduation is entitled to the traditional high school diploma. Wisconsin law allows a school board to grant a high school diploma to a pupil who has not satisfied the credit requirements, if:

  • the student was enrolled in an alternative education program, and
  • the school board determines that the pupil has demonstrated a level of proficiency in the subjects for which credits are required equivalent to that which they would have attained if they had satisfied the credit requirements, Wis. Stat. sec. 118.33(1)(d).

Technical Education High School Diploma  

2011 Wisconsin Act 156 permits a school board to grant a technical education high school diploma to a pupil who does all of the following:

1.      Satisfies the credit requirements and earns the number of credits for high school graduation as established by statute and the school board.

2.      Successfully completes a technical education program, established by the school board, in one or more subjects.

Diplomas Now

Diplomas Now is an innovative school turnaround model used in a large urban setting that unites three experienced nonprofit organizations to work with the nation’s most challenged middle and high schools to deliver the right interventions to the right students at the right time. Diplomas Now unites three organizations – City Year, Communities In Schools and Talent Development – each one with years of experience in youth service and third-party evidence of impact on helping students succeed. Diplomas Now works closely with school administrators and teachers to identify off-track youth and develop, implement and sustain comprehensive, targeted and customized strategies to get them back on track. Diplomas Now is deliberately designed to incorporate, complement and accelerate the impact of other promising and innovative efforts that aim to boost post-secondary success.

Wisconsin Challenge Academy

The Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy is a residential program committed to improving the quality of life for 16 to 18 year old at-risk teens. In the residential phase, much of the Cadets’ time is spent in classrooms where preparing for the High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) testing is the priority. In addition to classroom instruction by licensed teachers, activities include anger management classes, character development curriculum, rappelling, ROPES courses, experiential activities, community service projects, and leadership experiences.

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Reengagement Programs and Strategies

Reengagement programs and strategies seek to help out-of-school youth reenroll in school and earn a high school diploma or equivalency degree. Efforts include:

  • Adult career and technical education programs
  • High school equivalency test programs to prepare students for an alternative credential
  • Computer-based instruction, such as distance learning programs
  • In-school programs that provide academic or social and emotional support for students who reenroll after dropping out
  • Programs that grant credit toward high school completion for mastery of skills and content, as opposed to actual hours of instruction (i.e., “seat time”)
  • Alternative or “second chance” schools

Dropout Recovery Resource Guide

The Dropout Recovery Resource Guide was developed based on information and findings associated with the following activities whose goal was to identify effective dropout recovery programs, strategies and practices:

  • Literature search and review on effective dropout recovery practices and strategies;
  • Statewide survey of school district and charter school dropout recovery programs;
  • Identification of districts and charter schools with promising practices in dropout recovery;
  • In-depth interviews with districts and charter schools with promising practices;
  • Interviews with and site visits to districts, charter schools and college programs with potentially promising dropout recovery practices.

Whatever It Takes: How Twelve Communities Are Reconnecting Out-of-School Youth

This report explores two questions:

  • What can be done to recover and reconnect our young people to opportunities for building useful lives in work, family, and citizenship?
  • Who is doing what, and where, to reengage out-of-school youth while working to strengthen the communities in which they live?

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Publications and Resources

Approaches to Dropout Prevention: Heeding Early Warning Signs with Appropriate Interventions

This report outlines steps that schools can take to identify at-risk students and provide the necessary support systems and relevant interventions to assist students in obtaining a high school diploma. Further, the report discusses the use of early warning data systems to target interventions for groups and individual students, offers a variety of best practice approaches undertaken by higher-performing high schools, and presents effective programs that are currently being implemented to stem the dropout problem.

Developing Early Warning Systems to Identify Potential High School Dropouts

This guide, intended for educators and policymakers at the school, district, and state levels, is designed to provide information about the following:

  • Factors that contribute to a student's dropping out
  • Research on early warning indicators
  • School-level early warning systems
  • Step-by-step instructions for how schools can calculate indicators and identify which students are on track to graduate and which are most likely to drop out while there is still time to intervene and prevent dropouts
  • District-level early warning systems
  • Information for districts regarding the development of district-wide early warning systems that begin with a local analysis of graduation and dropout patterns in the district
  • States' roles in supporting the development and use of early warning systems

Dropout Prevention Practice Guide

A summary of research and recommendations from the What Works Clearinghouse around dropout prevention. This guide seeks to help educators develop practice and policy alternatives for implementation. The guide includes specific recommendations and indicates the quality of the evidence that supports these recommendations.

Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs: A Technical Report 

This study, conducted by NDPC/N, and sponsored by Communities In Schools Inc., finds that there are multiple risk factors which increase the likelihood that students will drop out. The evidence clearly shows that a student dropping out of school is always the result of a long process of disengagement that sometimes begins before the child enrolls in kindergarten. The report also provides information on 50 programs that were found to be effective in addressing these risk factors.

Early Warning Systems that Support Students At Risk of Dropping Out of High School

This report is a review of a study that examined the school factors that contribute to dropping out of high school. The study emphasized the importance of attendance in overall academic success and reveals the need for students having strong relationships with teachers, seeing school as important to their future, and having peer support for academic achievement.

Early Warning Systems Tools 

The National High School Center's Early Warning System (EWS) Tool v2.0, a free Microsoft Excel-based program, is a redesigned and enhanced adaptation of the National High School Center’s original Early Warning System Tool v1.0, released in 2008. The EWS Tool v2.0 identifies students who show early warning signs that they are at risk for dropping out of high school and relies on readily available student-level data.

Effective Strategies for Dropout Prevention

The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network has identified 15 effective strategies that have the most positive impact on the dropout rate. These strategies have been implemented successfully at all education levels and environments throughout the nation.

Present, Engaged, and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades

This applied research project sought to explore the prevalence, consequences, potential contributing factors and possible responses to chronic absence in grades K-3. To deepen understanding of the issue, this project supported new analysis of national and local data on student attendance patterns, a review of relevant literature, and interviews with practitioners, researchers, and funders about promising practices and programs. This summary presents findings about why chronic early absence matters, what contributes to its prevalence, and what are the implications for action.

Using Early-Warning Data to Improve Graduation Rates: Closing Cracks in the Education System

This brief explores the power of early-warning data in predicting whether a student will drop out, offers examples of current efforts to use such data to guide secondary school interventions across the country, and discusses the policies that can support these efforts.

Video Clips of Promising Graduation Strategies in Wisconsin

The videos clips available at this site are short interviews with Wisconsin educators and others who have helped boost graduation rates at schools in Wisconsin. Listen to some of the successful graduation-boosting strategies featured in the new, three-minute video profiles including,

The latest DPI videos complete the series of Graduation Strategy Profiles, featuring sectional presenters from the Wisconsin Graduation Summit of March 2010. As with earlier videos in this series, key players give interviews which provide an introduction to various interventions and practices, generally including evidence of their effectiveness. The profiles are available on the WisconsinDPI YouTube channel.

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Students of Color

Dropout Prevention: Stories and Ideas from Hmong and Lao High School Students in North Minneapolis
This report grew out of the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotan’s participation as a stakeholder in the steering committee for the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Dropout Prevention, Retention and Graduation Initiative and the Hennepin County Asian Pacific Islander Initiative. It is based on responses from 45 Southeast Asian High School student participants in three focus groups to a series of open ended questions about causes of dropping out and dropout prevention.

Next Generation Charter Schools: Meeting the Needs of Latinos and English Language Learners

This report identifies strategies that have been found to be effective in serving Latino students and English Language Learners in both traditional and charter schools.

Plans for Dropout Prevention and Special School Support Services for American Indian and Alaska Native Students This paper provides recommendations to help schools become more responsive to the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students.

FINAL REPORT: Spring 2010 Workshop on the Recruitment and Retention of African American Male Students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) 

The Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network conducted three workshops focused on increasing the enrollment and retention of minority males in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The goals of the workshops were to: (1) identify effective strategies and best practices for increasing male student enrollment and retention at minority-serving institutions (MSIs) in STEM; (2) identify potential reinforcing pipeline options; and (3) prepare and disseminate a summary report on the best practices and key findings discussed during the workshops.

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Students with Disabilities

National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities
The National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities provides technical assistance to design/select and implement effective, evidence-based interventions and programs to address dropout among students with disabilities.

Students with Disabilities Who Drop Out of School: Implications for Policy and Practice

This publication identifies what strategies work to reduce the dropout rate for students with disabilities.

Graduation Procedures for Students with Disabilities (DPI Information Update Bulletin 10.08)

This DPI Bulletin describes how students with disabilities are able to meet the high school graduation policies developed by the local school board.

Self-Determination Handbook with Forms

This handbook is designed to help students with disabilities learn self-determination skills and improve their ability to take responsibility for their post-high school lives.

Transition Action Guide for Post-School Planning

This Guide was developed to assist people and agencies involved in the transition process in the improvement of communication, coordination, and services for students with disabilities transitioning from school to work.

Transition Services for Students with Disabilities

This webpage provides information about the requirements for transition services for Wisconsin students with disabilities, as well as related resources and materials. It includes links to the Wisconsin State Transition Initiative, which assists school districts in addressing the transition-related requirements of IDEA and Wisconsin state law.

Policy and Procedures Review Checklists: These checklists are tools to help school districts determine if they have policies in place in each area for students with disabilities. By completing the checklists and documenting the source and location of related documents, the district is in a position to address any areas not covered that may be negatively impacting their students with disabilities.

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Other Special Populations

Additional Learning Opportunities in Rural Areas: Needs, Successes and Challenges

This report identifies additional learning services that are effective in rural schools.

Education of Incarcerated Students

This question and answer bulletin explains school districts legal responsibilities to provide instruction to youth who are incarcerated.

Girls Tend to Stop Going; Boys Get Told to Not Come Back: A Report on Gender and the Dropout Problem in Colorado Schools

The purpose of this study was to disaggregate the data for girls and boys to try to pin down

  1. possible reasons for the differences between the male and female dropout rates; and
  2. factors that may affect or are associated with girls’ decisions to leave or to stay in school.

Preventing Student Disengagement and Keeping Students on the Graduation Path in Urban Middle-Grades Schools: Early Identification and Effective Interventions 

This article considers the practical, conceptual, and empirical foundations of an early identification and intervention system for middle-grades schools to combat student disengagement and increase graduation rates in our nation’s cities.

Services for Expelled Students: Overview of Research and Policy 

This paper provides an overview of research and state and federal policies related to services for expelled students.

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National Organizations

Alliance for Excellent Education
The Alliance for Excellent Education is a national policy and advocacy organization that works to make every child a high school graduate - to prepare them for college, work, and to be contributing members of society. Founded in 2001, the Alliance focuses on America's six million most at-risk secondary school students - those in the lowest achievement quartile - who are most likely to leave school without a diploma or to graduate unprepared for a productive future. The Alliance works to encourage the development and implementation of federal and national policies that support effective high school reform and increased student achievement and attainment. It works to synthesize and distribute research and information about promising practices that enlightens the national debate about education policies and options.

American Youth Policy Forum

The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, which provides learning opportunities for policymakers, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. The website includes links to webcasts, e-bulletins, and publications.

Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement

The Learning Point Associates Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement has gathered “how to” information for schools planning, implementing, or sustaining whole-school reform. These resources offer practical advice and templates, as well as data collection instruments, surveys, and other program evaluation tools.

National High School Center

The National High School Center promotes the use of research-supported approaches that help all students learn and become adequately prepared for college, work, and life. The Center identifies research-supported improvement programs and tools, offers user-friendly products, and provides technical assistance services to improve secondary education.

Institute of Education Sciences

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) publishes practice guides in education to bring available evidence and expertise to bear on the types of systemic challenges that cannot currently be addressed by single interventions or programs. Authors of practice guides seldom conduct the types of systematic literature searches that are the backbone of a meta-analysis, although they take advantage of such work when it is already published. Instead, authors use their expertise to identify the most important research with respect to their recommendations, augmented by a search of recent publications to ensure that research citations are up-to-date.

National Center for School Engagement

The National Center for School Engagement (NCSE) was established following more than a decade of educational research conducted by The Partnership for Families & Children, formerly known at the Colorado Foundation for Families and Children. NCSE makes many resources available on this site concerning school attendance, attachment, and achievement.

National Dropout Prevention Center

The National Dropout Prevention Center provides knowledge and promotes networking for researchers, practitioner, policymakers and families to increase opportunities for youth in at-risk situations to receive the quality education and services necessary to successfully graduate from high school.

Schools Moving Up Webinars

Schools Moving Up Webinars cover a variety of topics, including preventing dropouts. Webinars include what happens to high school dropouts who return to school, reducing school dropout rates, and supporting students in alternative education settings. Registered users are notified about new Schools Moving Up webinars each month.

What Works Clearinghouse

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. The WWC produces practice guides for educators that address instructional challenges with research-based recommendations for schools and classrooms; assesses the rigor of research evidence on the effectiveness of interventions (programs, products, practices, and policies); develops and implements standards reviewing and synthesizing education research; and provides a registry of educational evaluation researchers to assist schools, school districts, and program developers with designing and carrying out rigorous evaluations.

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