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Ensuring high school completion is not just a school or regional priority.  It’s a national priority.

Although the overall high school completion rates have increased over the past century, schools still face the challenge of how to prevent students from deciding to leave. The most challenging aspect when determining prevention strategies is that there is no singular precedent for determining what that ‘red flag,’ deciding factor is. This is largely due to many factors that determine why a student may elect not to complete school.

While the number of low-grad-rate high schools has declined considerably over the past decade, the number is still high in some states. With the new Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) graduation requirements going into effect, many districts are faced with asking themselves the tough questions surrounding accountability for ESSA compliance. This, of course, includes increasing graduation rates and decreasing dropout rates.

Understanding Dropout Factors

As educators, we know that many internal and external factors affect our student’s decision-making on a daily basis.

Two groups of authors (Jordan, et al. and Watt and Roessingh, 1994) created a framework to explain reasons that could lead to a student’s decision. They found that dropout factors can be categorized as being a ‘push,’ ‘pull,’ or ‘falling out.’

  1. Push factors are defined as situations that push a student out of school. They are circumstances that result in consequences within the school environment. These could be discipline and behavioral issues, attendance problems, and assessments.
  2. Pull factors are defined as internal situations or struggles that pull a student away from school.  They are circumstances such as family needs (including military-related relocation), demands, or changes, after-school employment and financial distress, pregnancy, illness, and even marriage.
  3. The third factor of ‘falling out’ of school was proposed by Watt and Roessingh (1994).    Falling out “occurs when a student does not show significant academic progress in schoolwork and becomes apathetic or even disillusioned with school completion.” These circumstances create a lack of connection with school, and students simply don’t like school.

Preventing Dropout through Online Learning

As discussed, many different factors offer reasons for a student to choose to drop out of school. And because of that, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to preventing dropout. However, what if we could provide opportunities and solutions that increase our chances of retaining students in school? What if we could negate some of the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors? Could we stop just one more student from making the life-changing decision to leave school?

We can use online learning.

Three aspects of online learning that address the needs of individual students and prepare students for graduation are flexibility, customization, and personalization.


Sometimes our students are faced with obligations (such as work, illness, sports, pregnancy, etc.) that ‘pull’ them away from a traditional school setting.

Online learning provides:

  • anywhere, anytime learning.
  • learning that fits into various schedules.
  • student opportunities for in-house suspension, recovery from illness, credit recovery, summer school, and afterschool.
  • the ability for students to move at their own pace.
  • part-time or full-time learning solutions.
  • students with a reason not to drop out!


With an online learning solution, teachers can differentiate the learning experience for each student, meeting the needs of all. Teachers and administrators can:

  • Customize instructional sequence to align with state, district, or school scope and sequence.
  • Individualize units, lessons, and projects.
  • Create a custom course, including adding your own teacher-created or district-created lessons, projects, assessments, and quizzes.
  • Customize prescriptive learning paths for each student.


Our classrooms are diverse, filled with students at varying levels of competency and mastery of skills. By providing students with personalized learning opportunities, we increase their level of success. A few highlights of how to personalize instruction are:

  • Provide prescriptive learning paths based on diagnostic assessments.
  • Provide rich and meaningful support tools for ELL students.
  • Leverage standard-based reporting to make meaningful data-driven decisions for each student.
  • Provide scaffolded, embedded instructional support at point-of-use for each student.
  • Tailor lessons, projects, and units to match their interests


Students drop out or fall behind in school for a variety of reasons. Online Learning is a proven solution to increase graduation rates and provide flexibility, customization, and personalization. Schools can leverage online learning to better support students who may be on the verge of dropping out and retain our students until the day they graduate from high school.