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
Part I: What Do We Know About Dropout Prevention?
What are Key Components of Dropout Prevention Programs?
Programs that have been designed to prevent dropout vary widely. Based on
an integrative review of effective interventions designed to address dropout
(and associated variables) described in the professional literature, Lehr et
al. (2003) found that most of these interventions could be categorized according
to the following types.
- Personal/affective (e.g., retreats designed to enhance self-esteem, regularly
scheduled classroom-based discussion, individual counseling, participation
in an interpersonal relations class);
- Academic (e.g., provision of special academic courses, individualized methods
of instruction, tutoring);
- Family outreach (e.g., strategies that include increased feedback to parents
or home visits);
- School structure (e.g., implementation of school within a school, re-definition
of the role of the homeroom teacher, reducing class size, creation of an alternative
- Work related (e.g., vocational training, participation in volunteer or
The majority of the interventions (71%) included a personal/affective focus.
Nearly half (49%) included an academic focus. Most of the intervention programs
(73%) included more than one type of intervention. These findings and other
research suggest that preventing dropout can be achieved in a variety of ways.
Given the vast array of program types, it becomes clear that there is not one
right way to intervene. Rather than searching for the perfect program, identification
of components that facilitate the effectiveness of interventions may prove to
be a more valuable endeavor. Identification of these key components may help
to guide the development of interventions, improve the likelihood of successful
implementation, and serve as a useful framework for evaluating outcomes.
Researchers note that several components appear to be key to intervention success.
Lists of critical components have been generated based on experience, literature
syntheses, descriptive retrospective analyses of program implementation, and
data-based approaches. However, these components require continued research
and systematic implementation to determine the extent to which empirical data
accumulates supporting them as essential intervention components (Dynarski,
2001; Lehr et al., 2003). The table below lists key components from several
highly regarded sources and shows a significant amount of overlap. The extent
to which interventions include these components in their design should be carefully
Table 2: Key Components of Interventions Designed to Decrease Dropout/Increase
The following are based on findings from an evaluation of 20 programs
funded by the School Dropout Demonstration Assistance Program (Dynarski,
- Creating small schools with smaller class sizes;
- Allowing teachers to know students better (building relationships,
- Provision of individual assistance (academic and behavioral);
- Focus on helping students address personal and family issues through
counseling and access to social services; and
- Oriented toward assisting students in efforts to obtain GED certificates.
Fashola & Slavin (1998). Based on a review of six dropout
prevention and college attendance programs for students placed at risk.
- Incorporating personalization by creating meaningful personal bonds
between students and teachers and among students;
- Connecting students to an attainable future;
- Providing some form of academic assistance to help students perform
well in their coursework; and
- Recognizing the importance of families in the school success of their
children’s achievement and school completion.
Hayward & Tallmadge (1995). Based on evaluation of dropout
prevention and reentry projects in vocational education funded under the
Cooperative Demonstration Program (CDP) of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational
- Smaller, more personal environment;
- Vocational education that has an occupational concentration;
- A formal counseling component that incorporates attention to personal
issues along with career counseling and life-skills instruction;
- Formal, ongoing coordination of the academic and vocational components
of participants’ high school programs;
- A structured environment that includes clear and equitably enforced
behavioral expectations; and
- Personal, supportive attention from adults, through mentoring or
McPartland (1994). Based on review of dropout prevention programs
and interview data from students who dropped out of school.
- Providing opportunities for success in schoolwork (e.g., intensive
reading instruction in early grades, tutoring, curriculum modification
to increase relevance);
- Creating a caring and supportive environment (e.g., use of adult
mentors, expanding role of homeroom teachers, organizing extracurricular
- Communicating the relevance of education to future endeavors (e.g.,
offering vocational and career counseling, flexible scheduling, and
work-study programs); and
- Helping students with personal problems (e.g., on-site health care,
availability of individual and group counseling).
Schargel & Smink (2001). Based on a body of work and program
database generated by the National Dropout Prevention Center.
- Early intervention includes comprehensive family involvement,
early childhood education, and strong reading and writing programs.
- Basic core strategies promote opportunities for the student
to form bonding relationships and include mentoring/tutoring, service
learning, alternative schooling, and out-of-school enhancement programs.
- Making the most of instruction includes providing opportunities
for professional development, exploring diverse learning styles, using
technology to deliver instruction, and providing individualized learning.
- Making the most of wider communities includes linking with
the wider community through systemic renewal, community collaboration,
career education and school-to-work programs, and conflict resolution
and violence prevention programs to enhance effective interpersonal
Thurlow, Christenson, Sinclair, Evelo, & Thornton (1995).
Based on identification of key components across three interventions designed
to increase engagement and school completion for middle school youth with
learning and emotional/behavioral disabilities funded by the Office of
Special Education Programs.
- Persistence plus (persistence in maintaining a focus on student educational
progress and engagement with school; continuity in recognizing and attending
to student needs across years via a person connected with the student;
consistency in delivery of a message across adults—do the work,
attend classes, be on time, express frustration in a constructive manner,
stay in school);
- Monitoring (target the occurrence of risk behaviors, regularly collect
data and measure effects of timely interventions);
- Relationships (building a variety of relationships to strengthen
student success in school; adult-student, as well as home-school-community);
- Affiliation (fostering students’ connections to school and
sense of belonging to the community of students and staff); and
- Problem-solving skills (developing capacity of students to solve
problems and enhancing skills to meet the demands of the school environment).
1.19MB, 84 pages
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.
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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
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