New Survey: Award-Winning Public High Schools Cite Advanced Course Offerings, Supportive School Environments as Key for Students’ College Success
Results also highlight disparities in advanced course offerings and extracurricular opportunities among higher- and lower-income schools
OAKLAND, CA (July 7, 2021) — GreatSchools.org released a new survey of 820 public high school leaders that provides key insights for education stakeholders as they take stock of the year of pandemic learning and assess practices for college success worthy of potential investment and further investigation. The survey highlights best practices from high schools in 24(1) states with a multi-year track record of helping students enroll, persist, and succeed in college.
The survey finds that high school leaders across the board cite the importance of strong relationships and a supportive school environment — particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic — with many finding innovative ways to engage students and families through practices that will last beyond this year.
Also notably, while 97% of leaders overall indicate their school offers at least one advanced academic program, lower-income, College Success Award-winning schools offer fewer Advanced Placement (AP) courses (47%) than higher-income, non-winning schools (53%), suggesting that access to AP coursework could improve postsecondary outcomes at lower-income schools. Beyond simply offering advanced courses, the results also point to a need for lower-income schools to ensure equitable access to these classes from an earlier grade.
“In schools serving lower-income populations, there was a noticeable gap between winning and non-winning schools in providing access to advanced courses beginning in 9th grade — with 73% and 66% adopting this practice, respectively. That’s a difference we didn’t see between higher-income winning and non-winning schools,” said GreatSchools Vice President of Data Strategy Orville Jackson, PhD. “This suggests that providing early access to advanced courses can improve college outcomes, especially among students whose families are experiencing financial hardship.”
As education stakeholders seek to reimagine public education in America following the COVID-19 pandemic, this survey offers guidance for creating more equitable high school experiences that set students up for postsecondary success.
“Many school leaders are currently strategizing around the use of new financial resources via the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund,” added GreatSchools CEO Jon Deane. “Understanding which practices give students — particularly those striving to overcome systemic barriers in pursuit of a great education — the best possible chance for success during and after high school is a key step in turning those dollars into meaningful, persistent actions that benefit generations of students.”
The school leaders, 91% of whom indicated that their school does not have selective attendance criteria, most commonly cited the following key practices and themes as valuable to their students’ postsecondary success:
- A robust offering of AP and Honors courses
- Equitable and early access to advanced courses
- A supportive school environment and strong relationships, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Teacher support and consistent communication with students and their families to assist students not academically on track for college
- Access to extracurricular clubs and activities, such as STEM, business, activism/public service, and foreign language
- Integration of digital technology into a post-pandemic learning environment
Results were disaggregated and analyzed based on two categories:
- Award Status: High schools that have won GreatSchools’ College Success Award, which recognizes schools that excel in preparing students for postsecondary success, versus those that have not won a College Success Award.
- School Socioeconomic Status: Lower-income schools where 40+% of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch versus higher-income schools where 39% or fewer students are eligible for such programs.
While this research offers promising insights on best practices for high schools to prepare students for postsecondary success, further research is needed to understand more specifically how the practices identified by this analysis are implemented, especially at lower-income schools. The full survey results are available for download on GreatSchools’ research insights page.
GreatSchools’ experts are available for media interviews: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) AR, CO, CT, FL, GA, HI, ID, IN, KY, LA, MA, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NJ, OH, OK, TX, VT
GreatSchools is the leading national nonprofit empowering parents with essential information to improve educational opportunities for their child. We are the only national organization that collects and analyzes data from all 51 state departments of education and the federal government to provide analysis, insights, and school quality ratings for parents, partners, researchers, and policymakers. Over 46 million users visit GreatSchools’ award-winning website annually to learn about schools in their area, explore research insights, and access thousands of free, evidence-based parenting resources to support their child’s learning and well-being. Learn more at GreatSchools.org and join us on Twitter and Facebook.
About the GreatSchools College Success Award:
Now entering its fourth year, the GreatSchools College Success Award recognizes and celebrates public high schools from around the country that excel in ensuring students are prepared for college and ultimately careers — as determined by available data in each state. These schools graduate students who are academically primed for college-level courses, enroll in two- or four-year colleges, and persist into their second year. In 2020, 2,158 schools from 29 states received this honor. The 2021 award-winners will be announced this fall.