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Originally published May 16, 2013 at 4:28 PM | Page modified May 17, 2013 at 11:34 AM

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Helping high-school students navigate the next step

The state Legislature ought to agree on funding for Navigation 101, purposeful college and career guidance for middle schools and high schools.

Times editorial columnist

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The struggle to point more young people toward college begins with getting high-school students to think about the next step in life.

Aspiring to college is not enough.

Three-quarters of Washington state’s high-school graduates enroll in community college or a university within two years of high-school graduation, but more than half need remedial classes. No surprise, those students are more prone to drop out of college.

I was reminded of a program that offers a practical guide for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors when my Times editorial-board colleagues and I sat down recently with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and Trevor Greene, principal of Toppenish High School.

The pair are potent advocates for Navigation 101, a middle- and high-school program that serves as a virtual guidance counselor helping students avoid the rocky shoals that lead to dropping out. Students use the college- and career-readiness program to chart their way to academic success.

Greene, the 2012 National Principal of the Year, is getting results in his Eastern Washington school that ought to be the envy of principals everywhere, including a 91 percent graduation rate for the class of 2011. The vast majority of students at Toppenish qualify for reduced-priced and free lunches. Many are from migrant families and their dreams of a college education can be easily eclipsed by economic challenges. Taking the SAT, applying to college and for financial aid, and even surviving that first year on campus can be a daunting or even insurmountable challenge.

I hear these stories and I sympathize. My college guidance in high school was trial and error. I took the SAT test without preparing for it and applied to colleges I had never visited or connected with.

I survived the odds. Navigation 101 improves the chances. Evaluations by the Bothell-based BERC Group show noteworthy results:

• Navigation 101 high-school-graduation rates are 20 percent higher than rates in similar schools.

• College enrollment rates for Hispanic students who participated in Navigation 101 rose by 30 percent and by 10 percent for African-American students.

Algebra is a critical threshold for students aspiring to college, especially those who want to study science, technology, engineering or math. Navigation 101 students taking eighth-grade algebra went up by 13 percent. Similar increases were seen in participants seeking out high-school chemistry, physics and, to a lesser extent, advanced math.

Beyond academics, students at Navigation 101 schools reported an increased “sense of belonging” and focus on their futures.

A program posting these kinds of gains ought to be a shoe-in for addition support from the state Legislature. Instead, Navigation 101 may not survive the budget battle between the Democratic House and the Senate Majority Coalition. The House’s budget includes the requested $5.6 million for the 2013-15 biennium. The Senate’s budget does not.

The program is only in half of the state’s 295 districts. Some education leaders will remain committed to the program even if the funding goes away — Greene is one of them. But without state support, new districts will not want to take on the expense.

This program is inexpensive for the state. Heck, it is cheap. It costs $8 to $14 per student per year, compared with similar intervention programs that cost hundreds of dollars per student. Better yet, College Spark Washington, a private foundation, matches the state money dollar-for-dollar.

It would be a shame if an affordable program died from a lack of support, not efficacy.

Dorn and Greene could use some advocates. Navigation 101 works because of the hard work of caring teachers. The Washington Education Association ought to respect, and support, their efforts.

Lynne K. Varner's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Email Follow her on Twitter @lkvarner

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