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New York's Dropout Data Reanalyzed

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Although New York City school officials claim progress has been made in lowering the district's dropout rate, the proportion of students actually remaining in school has changed only slightly over the past two years, an education advocacy group has concluded.

In an analysis of school-board statistics on students entering as freshmen in 1982 and enrolled in 12th grade last year, the Educational Priorities Panel found that 54 percent had dropped out in the intervening years. That represents, the group said, only a slight improvement over findings from two years earlier, when 55.7 percent of the class of 1984 were found to have dropped out.

The board of education said last month that the city's dropout rate had declined by 11.2 percentage points over the past two years, from 41.9 percent to 30.7 percent.

The findings highlight the discrepancies that often occur when dropout statistics are calculated using different formulas.

The board of education, for instance, does not include special-education students in its tally, and it does not count as dropouts those who seek General Educational Development certificates.

In addition, board officials said, the two rates are not comparable. The board calculates its four-year dropout rate by projecting its annual rate into the future, they said, while the Educational Priorities Panel measured a class of students who had entered high school, and, in many cases, dropped out, before the city and state initiated a series of dropout-prevention efforts.

To make a more accurate comparison, board officials said, dropout figures released by the board in 1984, when school officials predicted that 38.4 percent of the class of 1986 would drop out, should be used.

Both school officials and members of the advocacy panel, a coalition of parent and civic groups, agreed that the school system had persuaded to remain in school some 9,000 students who would have dropped out in earlier years.

But members of the coalition said more attention should be paid to the board's finding that the proportion of those receiving diplomas had not risen accordingly.

The primary issue, said Robin Willner, staff director of the advocacy group, is whether the board is providing enough academic support to ensure that its students are progressing satisfactorily toward a diploma.

The board's current method of calculating its dropout rate overstates the progress of the past two years, she said, adding that she and others would continue to press the board to use the "cohort'' method of tracking students throughout their high-school careers.

A spokesman for the board of education said last week that data on the careers of individual students have been collected during the past four years, and that a report on the "survival rate'' of students would be completed before the end of the school year.

In addition, the board has asked Albert Bowker, a noted statistician and former chancellor of the City University of New York, who is currently executive vice president of the University of Maryland, to provide an independent evaluation of the methods used by the board and the advocacy group to calculate the city's dropout rates.--W.S.

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