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Iowa Poll Spurs Guide To Pare Dropout Rate

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After surveying dropouts on the reasons they left school, the Iowa education department has developed an apparently unique guide aimed at helping educators determine if their policies and practices actually encourage young people to quit.

The document, which is scheduled to be distributed to all schools in the state in the next two months, lists more than 40 policies and practices that may discourage students and suggests alternative ways of spurring them to stay in school.

The Education Commission of the States, which funded the dropout survey, is heralding the inventory as a national model and encouraging its use by other states.

Robert M. Palaich, senior policy analyst and director of commission initiatives for at-risk youths, said he knew of no other state that has used a survey of dropouts themselves to verify its research on why students quit school.

And, while Mr. Palaich said he found no surprises among the policies listed, many of which have been cited in other literature in the field, he added that he was not aware of any previous attempts to bring them together in a single document.

Last spring, a state task force surveyed 237 dropouts, ages 16 to 21, who had re-enrolled in alternative-education programs.

The students were asked to identify, from 45 options listed by the task force, the factors that caused them to leave school before graduation.

The most frequently cited problem, selected by more than 64 percent of the dropouts, was that counselors and teachers did not help them feel they belonged in school.

More than 54 percent of the respondents complained that teachers lectured most of the time, and that rewards were given only to students with good grades.

Other reasons commonly mentioned for dropping out or doing poorly in school included: "I needed more individual help to learn"; "Most teachers did not care whether I did well"; and "The number of classes I had to take was too many."

A draft of the resulting inventory lists the harmful effects on student performance of various policies in the areas of instruction, discipline, support services, attendance, student activities, and school and community relations.--ps

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