GraduateFIRST, Georgia’s nationally recognized dropout prevention initiative, utilizes the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities (NDPC-SD) data-driven intervention framework to successfully address barriers to graduation for students with disabilities in targeted schools. In GraduateFIRST, school-based teams are trained to diagnose the causes of dropout and to develop and implement school specific improvement plans that address the contributing causes through the implementation of evidence-based drop-out prevention, instructional, and behavioral strategies.
The school teams, which include team leaders, receive technical assistance, coaching, and resources to help them implement the identified strategies for with students with disabilities as well as at-risk students. Professional development for the teams includes modules provided by the NDPC-SD and sessions that target evidence-based strategies designed to increase attendance, improve behavior, and engage students academically. Evidence-based strategies are also provided to help targeted students develop caring relationships with adults, a sense of school connectedness, and self-determination/self-advocacy skills.
GraduateFIRST utilizes the seven data probes developed by the NDPC-SD to measure student progress. Based on a comprehensive analysis of probe data, participating schools have shown improved graduation rates, reduced dropout rates, decreased out-of-school suspensions (OSS) and in-school suspensions (ISS), increased attendance rates, and improved reading and math achievement for students with disabilities. As a result of this success, SPDG personnel have been invited to present at numerous state and national conferences on the GraduateFIRST initiative.
GraduateFIRST, which was developed during the previous Georgia State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) and implemented in collaboration with the Georgia Learning Resources System (GLRS), will be expanded during the current funding cycle (2013 – 2017) to include Focus Schools that have been identified by the Office of School Improvement as needing improvement based on performance of students with disabilities. Over 90 elementary, middle, and high schools participate in the GraduateFIRST including schools from rural and urban school districts.