Case Study

Large Urban District Increases Graduation Rate

Boston Public Schools, MA


A significant percentage of Boston students struggled to achieve academic success and ended up dropping out or not graduating on time.


  • Increase graduation rate
  • Decrease dropout rate


  • Launch online credit recovery program to support at-risk students between 18 and 20 years old who are close to graduating.
  • Enlist a digital curriculum partner that supports expansion beyond credit recovery, can address the wider range of student academic needs, and integrates with the district’s SIS system.


  • Graduation rate increased 8 percentage points in school years 2010–2012.
  • Dropout rate decreased 3.4 percentage points in school year 2010–2011.

Expanding Access to Advanced Placement

Sparked by Superintendent Carol Johnson’s Acceleration Agenda, the district identified digital learning as a solution to engage and motivate students and improve their academic success.

We wanted a digital curriculum that offered a high level of academic rigor, as well as provides learning supports for our struggling students.

Jan Manfredi

Program Director


Addressing At-Risk Student Support

The district launched an online credit recovery program targeting “old and close” students at risk of not graduating. Students ages 18 and 22 could enroll if they passed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) high-stakes exam and needed less than four credits to graduate.


Providing Rigorous Digital Curriculum

After two years of varied results using a multiple-provider approach, the district selected Apex Learning for its breadth and depth of adherence to standards in its digital curriculum. “The rigor of the Apex Learning digital curriculum is what solidified the teachers’ support,” said Nancy Lenhart, teacher at Boston Public Schools.

We’ve learned to become coaches who facilitate learning rather than instructors who lecture.

Nancy Lenhart



Improving Student Outcomes

While students progressed at their own pace through the material, teachers used real-time data to monitor progress and performance and determine the best way to help each individual student achieve. With more students engaged in their learning, achievement increased. Students stayed on track and graduated, which led to a steady rise in the overall graduation rate.


Expanding to Middle School

This success led to the launch of the second digital learning initiative. “Failure is Not an Option Program” (FNOP) provided academic support for 8th and 9th graders to mitigate their risk of dropping out later in their academic career. FNOP students completed the Apex Learning online Foundations courses, designed to bring reading comprehension and math skills up to grade level.

Boston Grad Rate 8 Percent

Keys to Success

Motivation is key. The Failure is Not an Option program had success particularly at the middle school level because 8th graders, like high school seniors, were personally motivated to finish, according to Manfredi. The district doubled the number of middle and high schools offering Failure is Not an Option the following year.


About Boston Public Schools

  • District serves 55,898 K-12 students
  • 30 traditional high schools
  • 6 alternative programs