Dropout Rate Has Fallen, Census Bureau Reports

By Tom Mirga — April 08, 1987 2 min read

WASHINGTON--The annual high-school dropout rate nationwide fell significantly in the decade between 1973 and 1983, with the rate for black males showing the greatest decline, the Bureau of the Census reported last week.

The study represents the bureau’s first attempt to calculate the yearly dropout rate.

According to the bureau, 535,000 persons ages 14 to 24--5.2 percent of the total age group--dropped out from either the 10th, 11th, or 12th grade between 1982 and 1983. In 1973, 683,000 persons dropped out of those grades, a rate of 6.3 percent for the age group.

The yearly dropout rate for black males fell from 12 percent to 7 percent during the period, representing the only statistically significant change among the subgroups studied, according to the bureau’s report.

Robert Kominski, the bureau analyst who prepared the report, said dropout rates for Hispanic students could not be calculated because too few were included in the sample.

The report indicated that students who dropped out in 1983 may have stayed in school longer than did dropouts 10 years earlier. Overall, the dropout rates declined in grades 10 and 11--from 5.4 percent to 3.7 percent in grade 10 and from 6.5 percent to 4.5 percent in grade 11. They showed little change in grade 12, rising slightly from 7.1 percent to 7.5 percent.

Three-Year Rate

The bureau said the combined three-year dropout rate for all students in grades 10 through 12 was 15 percent in 1983, compared with 19 percent in 1973. In other words, for every 100 students entering the 10th grade in 1981, 15 did not complete high school by the end of school year 1983.

The bureau estimated that the combined three-year rate for black males fell from about 32 percent in 1973 to about 20 percent in 1983. The three-year rate for white males fell slightly during the 10-year period, from 17 percent to 15 percent.

The report also indicates that only a fraction of a percent of all students drop out before reaching high school. About 112,000 14- to 24-year-olds in 1983 dropped out before reaching 9th grade, or about 0.28 percent of the total. The pre-9th-grade dropout rate for black students was 0.48 percent, compared with 0.21 percent for white students.

Method Used

Mr. Kominski said the bureau computed the dropout rate for 1983 by asking the survey’s respondents whether they were currently enrolled in school and whether they were enrolled in school the year before.

Previous efforts to calculate national dropout statistics have been hampered because school districts’ and states’ methods for reporting student attrition vary widely. The Council of Chief State School Officers has been working to encourage states to adopt a standard definition of a “dropout.’' (See Education Week, Nov. 19, 1986.)

The bureau’s report also notes that earlier studies of the national dropout rate by the U.S. Education Department’s center for statistics measured the ratio of high-school graduates to all persons 17 years old. “This measure is lacking’’ for several reasons, it notes, including the fact that “many persons older than age 17 are still enrolled in high school.’' Just over 20 percent of all persons 18 and older were still enrolled in high school in 1983, it notes.

The bureau’s report, “School Enrollment--Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 1983,’' Series P-20, No. 413, also includes data on preprimary and college enrollments. Copies can be obtained by writing to the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.

A version of this article appeared in the April 08, 1987 edition of Education Week as Dropout Rate Has Fallen, Census Bureau Reports