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Douglas dropout rates double

by Linda Hiller

While Nevada’s statewide high school dropout rate declined slightly in the 1997-98 school year from 9.9 percent to 9.8 percent, Douglas County’s dropout rate doubled, from 2.8 percent to 5.7 percent.

Roy Casey, assistant superintendent of education services for the Douglas County School District, said the reason for the rise in percentage is more due to a change in the way dropouts are counted.

According to state figures, 131 students dropped out of Douglas and Whittell high schools in 1997-98 out of a total student population of 2,308.

“A couple of things affected our rate last year,” he said. “For one, the state Legislature put in a statute that said a student can drop out at age 16 to prepare for their GED, and in the past we didn’t count these students as dropouts. We do now.”

Casey said that in order to take a GED, students can’t be enrolled in high school, but still weren’t counted as dropouts before the 1997-98 school year.

The other factor causing the rise in DCSD’s dropout rate, Casey said, is in the way non-returning students are accounted for. They weren’t always counted as dropouts before, he said.

“For example, we might get a student who registers in the spring and doesn’t come back,” he said. “So, we might think they’re coming back and they don’t. They have up to 18 months to return to the school, so we didn’t count them as dropouts until after that time period. Now we do.”

Sometimes students will obtain a draft transcript from a DCSD school and not return, Casey said. These students haven’t been counted as dropouts, unless the student’s new school calls for information regarding the student. For this reason, district officials are re-examining the policy of releasing a draft transcript, he said.

n Being proactive. A committee was formed last fall to look at ways the school district can prevent dropouts long before they happen, Casey said.

“We looked at our practices, and have done exit interviews with students who drop out to try and make things better,” he said. “Addressing te dropout rate is a part of the graduation strategy in the strategic plan. We’re re-focusing on dropout intervention and intervention on kids not meeting the competencies.”

Casey said that the increased math competencies are getting noticed today as one of the stumbling blocks all Nevada students are facing in meeting graduation requirements. The number of Douglas County seniors who haven’t passed these math competencies is low.

“Our students do well on high school proficiency exams,” he said. “We only have six students who haven’t passed this year. We attribute this to the interventions we have in place already, as well as our strong math curriculum. Our integrated math program has really made a difference – we’re one-up in that area.”

Although Casey said school personnel aren’t alarmed in the dropout rate doubling, he appreciates the warning the numbers bring to mind.

“This is definitely a ‘heads up’ for us, especially with state standards and competencies,” he said. “And, with the new way we’re counting dropouts, we are satisfied that we’re getting accurate numbers.”

n Statewide data. The state dropout rate report for the 1997-98 school year showed that nine of the 16 school districts offering instruction in grades 9-12 showed a decrease in their dropout rates, resulting in a decrease of one-tenth of a percent from the previous year, according to Mary L. Peterson, Nevada Department of Education Superintendent of Public Instruction.

During that school year, a total of 7,866 students dropped out of Nevada’s public high schools, and 839 of these were receiving special education services at the time of their exit from the system.

Decreases were reported for Carson City (from 6 to 5 percent) and districts in the counties of Churchill (from 7 to 6.6 percent, Humboldt (from 6.2 to 2.7 percent), Lander (from 7.8 to 7.2 percent), Mineral (from 7.5 to 5.2 percent), Pershing (from 4.4 to 1.2 percent), Storey (from 6 to 5.3 percent), Washoe (from 8.5 to 7.1 percent) and White Pine (from 9.7 to 6.1 percent).

Dropout rates increased in Clark (from 11.7 to 11.8 percent), Elko (from 4.6 to 4.7 percent), Lincoln (from 0.6 to 1.6 percent) and Lyon (from 6.7 to 7.7 percent) counties by one percentage point or less, according to the report, released May 22 from the Nevada Department of Education.

In the last 10 years, the highest dropout rate was 14.7 percent for the 1988-89 school year in Pershing County and the lowest was in Eureka County, where no one dropped out of school for the school years 1994-95, 1995-96 and 1996-97.

n Who’s dropping out? Seniors, or 12th graders, had the highest dropout rate – nearly one in five students, or 18.5 percent – according to the report, with 9th graders accounting for a 4 percent rate. More males (10.6 percent) dropped out than females (9.1 percent), and the dropout rate for Hispanic students decreased from 15.7 percent to 14.9 percent while the rate for African Americans increased from 12.3 percent to 12.6 percent. Decreases were also in evidence for Indian/Alaskan Native students (from 12.6 percent to 11.9 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islander students, who fell from 8.3 percent to 7.7 percent. The Caucasian American dropout rate remained steady at 8.2 percent.

In Douglas County, the dropouts were 11.3 percent Hispanic, 7.7 percent African American, 9.2 percent Indian/Alaskan Native, 5.9 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 5.1 percent Caucasian.

The largest percentage of students – 42.4 percent – left school at the request of either the student or their parents and/or guardians. The second largest percentage – 29.2 percent – came from students who failed to return to their school after the start of the new school year without explanation; 12.7 percent were absent for 10 consecutive days with whereabouts unknown; 14.6 percent were withdrawn at the request of their school; and 1.1 percent were incarcerated.

State school board president David C. Sheffield said many factors were likely responsible for the dropout rate decrease.

“Although the statewide dropout rate decreased only slightly from the previous school year, I am encouraged by the number of districts that have experienced declines in their dropout rates,” he said. “The continued and enhanced efforts on the part of the state’s Dropout Coalition, along with a myriad of district initiatives, are critical to our mission on decreasing the state’s dropout rate and increasing the graduation rate in every district and school in the state.”