First National Study of Young Dropouts Finds 6.8% Leave Before the 10th Grade

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WASHINGTON--The first national study of younger dropouts shows that 6.8 percent of all 8th-grade students leave school before they reach the 10th grade, new statistics gathered by the Education Department indicate.

The study, based on a nationally representative sample of nearly 25,000 10th-grade students who had been followed since the 8th grade, confirms what many in the dropout prevention field have long believed: that a substantial number of students become dropouts before they enter high school.

Dropout statistics, which are traditionally based on high-school enrollment records, rarely take into account students who leave school before entering the 9th grade, dropout experts said.

"Nobody is checking those numbers, and a lot of students are dropping out in the 7th grade," said Marty Duckenfield, the information-resources coordinator for the National Dropout Prevention Center. "The problem starts earlier than high school."

The data, which were included in the department's third annual report to the Congress on dropout and retention rates, show that 10.2 percent of black students, and 9.6 percent of Hispanic students, drop out before they reach their sophomore year. By contrast, 5.2 percent of white students and 4.0 percent of Asian students leave school before the 10th grade.

The study also found that males are more likely to leave school early than females, 7.2 percent versus 6.9 percent, and that students who attend inner-city schools are more likely to drop out before 10th grade than their suburban peers.

The department began tracking the 8th-grade students in 1988, as part of its National Education Longitudinal Study. Last year, it gathered information about these students through their schools and homes.

If researchers had relied on school records alone for their information, the report said, only 3.6 percent of the young dropouts would have been identified. The students will again be questioned in 1992.

The study also found that, as of October 1990: . 12.1 percent of Americans ages 16 to 24 had not completed high school and were not currently enrolled in school. . 4.1 percent of Americans ages 15 to 24 had dropped out of school during the previous year, down from 4.5 percent in 1989 and more than 6 percent in the late 1970's. . Hispanics continued to drop out of school at a higher rate than black or white students. About one-third of all Hispanics ages 16 to 24 had not finished school or were not enrolled. . A growing percentage of blacks had finished school. The study found that 78 percent of blacks ages 19 and 20 had completed school, a 15 percent increase since 1973.

National Dropout Definition

Although the NELS:88 data provide only a one-time look at young dropouts, department officials hope that a new, nationally tested definition of dropouts can provide more information about these and other students who leave school.

The new definition and data-collection effort, which were pilot-tested in 26 states and the District of Columbia during the 1989-90 school year, defines a dropout as an individual who has: . Been enrolled in grades 7-12 some time during the previous year; . Was not enrolled at the beginning of the current school year; and . Had not graduated from high school or completed a state- or district-approved education program.

Students are not considered to be dropouts if they transferred to another school or state- or district-approved education program, are absent due to suspension or illness, or have died. (See Education Week, March 29, 1989.)

Lee M. Hoffman, chief of the general surveys and analysis branch at the department's National Center for Education Statistics, said the department will begin asking states to collect dropout data according to the new definition during the 1992-93 school year after the move has been approved by the federal Office of Management and Budget.

"This will be a major dropout statistic, and one that is a comparable measure among the states," she said, "but it won't be the only measure" for determining the extent of the dropout problem.

Vol. 11, Issue 04, Page 21

Published in Print: September 25, 1991, as First National Study of Young Dropouts Finds 6.8% Leave Before the 10th Grade
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