Just 108 Colorado schools account for 70 percent of all dropouts in the state, according to a new report conducted for the Colorado Graduates Initiative by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
The study, titled “Understanding the Dropout Problem and Mobilizing to Meet the Graduation Challenge,” focused on five Colorado school districts, Adams 12, Aurora, Denver, Jefferson County and Pueblo City.
The report found that behavioral factors such as absenteeism, failing grades and bad behavior are stronger indicators of the likelihood of dropping out than are traditional demographic factors such as ethnicity and family income. Johns Hopkins researchers have been in the forefront of work on behavioral factors and how they surface in middle school and at the beginning of high school.
The five districts were invited to participate because they’re among the largest in the state and have some of the highest numbers of dropouts. The study looked at 2006-07 dropouts.
Among the findings:
- More than three of four dropouts had failed one or more semester classes in the 9th grade.
- In four of the five districts, a large majority of dropouts had patterns of chronic absenteeism.
- Nearly half of dropouts in four of five districts had been suspended at least once in the previous four years.
The study also examined students who were 9th graders in 2003-04 and so could have dropped out between 2003 and 2007. For those students, researchers found that the percentage of students who graduated on time declined noticeably with each semester class failure in 9th grade, and only 22 to 29 percent of students with one or more failures graduated on time.
“It’s a slippery slope. Even one semester course failure means a student is less likely to graduate on time from high school,” Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, in a statement. The Campaign and Colorado Youth for Change and the Partnership for Families and Children are partners in the Colorado Graduates Initiative. The study was paid for by the Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations.
Risk indicators also were found among middle school students in the five districts. “A third of 6th grade students are exhibiting at least one of the early warning indicators (poor attendance, behavior problems, course failure) in two of the districts, and as many as half appear to be at risk in another district,” according to the study’s executive summary.
The Initiative hopes that the report, by more closely identifying where the dropout problem is concentrated, will make it easier to identify and serve potential dropouts with successful interventions designed to reduce the number of failing students, decrease absenteeism and provide help to at-risk middle school students.
The report calls on districts to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of existing policies and interventions, build agreement among administrators and faculty on use of research-based practices to reduce the dropout rate and to create schoolwide programs and support structures to implement such practices.
Colorado Department of Education dropout statistics for the 2007-08 school year reported that 15,524 students dropped out in grades 7 through 12, 3.8 percent on a base of 411,439 students.
Eleven districts had more than 300 dropouts each that year, for a total of 9,674, or 62 percent of all dropouts. They were:
- Adams 12 – 902, 4.6 percent
- Aurora – 1,424, 8.2 percent
- Cherry Creek – 749, 2.9 percent
- Colorado Springs 11 – 657, 4 percent
- Denver – 2,591, 7.4 percent
- Greeley – 346, 3.9 percent
- Jefferson County – 1,430, 3.2 percent
- Mesa 51 – 474, 4.3 percent
- Poudre – 347, 2.6 percent
- Pueblo City – 435, 4.7 percent
- St. Vrain – 319, 3.7 percent
(The tiny Vilas district in southeastern Colorado reported 1,802 dropouts, or 19.2 percent. That’s because Vilas runs an extensive online program used by many students who live elsewhere.)
The Initiative will release two related reports, on rural and on female dropouts, Friday at the Colorado Dropouts Summit for School District Leaders, co-hosted by Governor Bill Ritter, America’s Promise, State Farm and the Initiative. The event will be at Arvada High School.
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Disclosure: The Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations are among the sponsors of Education News Colorado.