E-mail this page
Download PDF
1.19MB, 84 pages
Acrobat Reader required
NCSET logo

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

Increasing Rates of School Completion
Moving From Policy and Research to Practice

A Manual for Policymakers, Administrators, and Educators

Preventing Dropout and Promoting School Completion

Dropping out of school is a process of disengagement that begins early.

  • The decision to leave school is typically not an instantaneous event (Finn, 1993).
  • Many students who drop out of school are expressing an extreme form of disengagement from school preceded by indicators of withdrawal (e.g., poor attendance) and unsuccessful school experiences (e.g., academic or behavioral difficulties).
  • Retrospective studies show the identification of potential dropouts can be accomplished with reasonable accuracy in the elementary years (Barrington & Hendricks, 1989).

Theoretical conceptualizations have helped us understand the important role of student engagement in school and learning and have drawn attention to key ingredients including student participation, identification, social bonding, and personal investment in learning.

  • Student engagement in school and learning is integral to school completion. Finn’s (1993) model of dropout prevention suggests students must actively participate in school and have a simultaneous feeling of identification with school in order for them to remain in school and graduate.

School completion encompasses a broader view than simply preventing dropout (Christenson, Sinclair, Lehr, & Hurley, 2000). Promoting school completion implies:

  • A strength-based orientation (vs. a deficit orientation),
  • A comprehensive interface of systems (vs. a narrowly defined system of operation),
  • Implementation over time (vs. implementation at a single period in time),
  • Creating a person-environment fit (vs. a programmatic “one size fits all” orientation), and
  • A longitudinal focus, whereby interventions aim to promote a “good” outcome, not simply prevent a “bad” outcome for students and society.

In the past decade, engagement of alienated youth in school and learning has emerged as one of the most important variables addressed in prevention and intervention efforts.

Christenson (2002) defines engagement as a multi-dimensional construct that involves four types of engagement and associated indicators.

  • Academic engagement refers to time on task, academic engaged time, or credit accrual.
  • Behavioral engagement includes attendance, suspension, and class participation.
  • Cognitive engagement refers to internal indicators including processing academic information or becoming a self-regulated learner.
  • Psychological engagement includes identification with school and sense of belonging.

These indicators of engagement are influenced by contextual factors across the home, school, and peers. A focus on facilitators of engagement is a promising approach to guiding the development of effective interventions promoting school completion.

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Introduction & Getting Started

Part I: What Do We Know About Dropout Prevention?

Part II: How Were Sample Intervention Programs Selected?

  • The Need for Examples of Effective Interventions
  • Search Process & Initial Criteria
  • Raising the Bar
  • Final Parameters for Selection
  • Abstracts: Coding & Definitions

Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?

Part IV: Where Else Can I Go for More Information?

  • Related Resources & Organizations
  • Journal Articles & Related Publications
  • Web Sites Providing Data on Dropout Rates

Appendix: Reproducible Handouts on Dropout Prevention


E-mail this page
Download PDF
1.19MB, 84 pages
Acrobat Reader required

Citation: Lehr, C. A., Johnson, D. R., Bremer, C. D., Cosio, A., & Thompson, M. (2004). Essential tools: Increasing rates of school completion: Moving from policy and research to practice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 2025 East River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55414, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.