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Program Said To Lower Migrants' Dropout Rate

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The federal program that tracks the school records of migrant children has significantly reduced the dropout rate for the children it serves, according to a new study.

The study conducted for the Migrant Student Record Transfer Service found that the dropout rate for participating students decreased from 90 percent in 1969, the first year the service was offered, to about 40 percent last year. It also found a correlation between academic achievement and the length of pupils' enrollment in the program.

The 50-state service, based in Little Rock, Ark., keeps computerized records of the progress of migrant children in reading, language, and mathematics skills, and notes the schools the children attended, their personal history, and health information. Local administrators can request copies of the records when migrant pupils transfer into their schools.

"When we first began, the highest attainment of most of these children was the 7th or 8th grade,'' said Winford Miller, director of the service. "By providing student records for schools, we're graduating about 10,000 more migrant children a year nationwide.''

The records of about 750,000 children are kept on the computer system each year, but that represents only about half of those eligible, Mr. Miller said.

"We'll use this study as a tool to encourage Congress to give money to help more migrant children,'' he said. Currently, the service is available to children between the ages of 5 and 17. Mr. Miller said he supported expanding the age group eligible to include all migrants ages 3 to 21.

The service is financed through the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, under contract with the Arkansas Department of Education. Funds for the service, totaling some $264 million for the current fiscal year, are distributed to the states based on the number of migrant children they record each year.

Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas praised the program in a statement accompanying the release of the study last month.

"This study certainly supports the value of M.S.R.T.S.,'' Mr. Clinton said. "Migrant students need special attention, not only because they change schools so often, but because it is difficult for teachers to obtain information about their education.''

Achievement Boosted

The records of 144,000 migrant pupils who had taken one of two standardized tests between 1983 and 1985 were chosen for the study, which was conducted by Eugene Hackett, a consultant in Columbia, Mo.

The study found that children who enrolled in the record-tracking program at an early age scored significantly higher on standardized tests than those who had been in the system for a short time.

For example, more than 38 percent of the 11th graders who had been in the program since age 6 were performing at grade level or better, compared with 18 percent of those who had entered the program less than six months before the study took place.

"The younger we get the student, the better he or she will perform,'' Mr. Miller said. "We've heard that for years, but now we have the hard facts.''

The study also found that migrant pupils at every grade level performed much better in math than in reading. Mr. Miller explained the disparity by noting that such children typically have more experience with "everyday'' mathematical manipulations, such as making change, than with reading.

More information on the study is available from Winford Miller, Migrant Student Record Transfer System, Arkansas Department of Education, Little Rock, Ark. 72201.

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