Dropout rates are in

A story in today’s paper talks about the latest student dropout rates, with figures for local schools, districts, the county and state.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have space in the print edition to compare results from the past two years. (Clarification: I’m really talking about dropout rates for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years because the state is always one year behind in reporting the results.)

What makes this year’s report noteworthy is that, for the first time, it was based on a new student tracking system that makes the data more accurate.

Previously, a student who left a school was not necessarily counted as a dropout, since the student could have ended up pursuing a general education degree, enrolled in a private school or moved out of state and enrolled elsewhere. Then again, the student may have quit school. By not always counting as a dropout the student whose whereabouts were unknown, many schools, in effect, underreported their campus’ dropout rate.

To address this problem, the state two years ago began issuing a unique number to each student. That number would follow the student, even if he or she switched schools. The new tracking system makes it easier to check if a student, indeed, re-enrolled elsewhere, or if something else happened.

It also makes it more difficult for schools and districts to fudge their dropout numbers. I’m not suggesting that every school or district deliberately underreported their figures to make themselves look better, but the old way of reporting certainly did not paint a complete picture of what happened to students who left school.

The new tracking system isn’t perfect either, but it gets closer to telling the true story. Just take a look at this spreadsheet, which compares the 2005-06 dropout rates (based on the old reporting system) to the 2006-07 figures (based on the new tracking system).

To access the state Department of Education’s complete database, click here.

Image from somethingstartedcrazy’s site at flickr.com.

Linh Tat