Drop out rates on the rise in Spencer County

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By Robin Bass

More Spencer County high students dropped out of school in 2008 than the previous year. Recently released non-academic data also reveals that fewer students graduated and fewer are moving on to a successful adult life when compared to 2007 figures.

According to statistics compiled by the district and released by the Kentucky Department of Education, 2.41 percent of students in grades nine through 12 dropped out of Spencer County High School during the 2007-08 school year. In the preceding school year, that number was 1.62 percent. The difference represents a 49 percent increase in the number of students quitting school over a span of 12 months.

Superintendent Chuck Adams said at a recent school board meeting that some students may be having difficult time making the switch from middle to high school.

Upon further investigation, Assistant Superintendent Norma Thurman discovered that the average number of freshmen that drop out each year from Spencer County High School is 2.5 students, while sophomores are quitting school at an average of 5.3 a year.

When including students between the grades of seven and 12, the district wide drop out rate was 1.85 percent in 2007 versus 2.35 percent in 2008. In both categories, the district’s drop out rate still remains below the state level of 3.3. percent.

As the number of students quitting school early increases, the number of students who graduated has fallen. Of the students that entered SCHS in the ninth grade as part of the class of 2008, only 87.85 percent earned their diplomas. The class of 2007 saw 6.76 percent more seniors graduate with a total of 94.61 percent. Still, these numbers remain above the state graduation rate which hovers around 84 percent.

While school board members expressed concern about the recent statistics released by KDE, they were most surprised by a drop in the number of local students making the transition from high school to their adult lives in a successful manner. Measures of success are determined by the amount of graduates who move on to full-time college, vocational or technical school, military, work, or a combination of work and school. Districts collect this information in the fall from recent graduates through surveys.

Nearly 87 percent of 2008 graduates in the district matched the definition of making a successful transition. In 2007, 92.5 percent of SCHS students went on to enter the workforce, military or further their education. When Hillview Academy’s numbers are added, that figure jumps slightly to 93.7 percent. The district has remained below the state transition rate for the past three years which has fluctuated between 95 and 96 percent.

“We have to fix that leak,” said board member Mary Ann Carden when she heard the numbers.

When the numbers were further divided out by Thurman, it revealed that more – rather than fewer – Spencer County graduates are attending college and vocational/technical school than in previous years. That means, said Thurman, that “fewer are going to full time jobs or the military.”

“We want our kids to have a successful transition. That is our primary goal,” said Thurman.

One of the ways the district is hoping to help students in the future is through Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) that assists students in grades 6 -12 focus their coursework on individual goals in preparation for college and careers.

“It starts students thinking about their career goals and how to get there,” said Thurman.

This is accomplished initially through surveys where students discover their interests and strengths. In sixth grade, students begin exploring careers and creating education plans. As students progress through middle and into high school, the goals are revisited. Students also work on:

• Creating, maintaining and changing resumes

• Tracking and reflecting on their community services experiences, work experiences, career-planning activities, and extra-curricular and organization activities

• Exploring colleges and postsecondary opportunities that match their career, postsecondary and life goals

• Connecting to the GoHigherKY.org Web site for help with college planning, tuition assistance information and applications

• Collecting personal information like assessment results, advising activities demographic information and educational history

“These are the kinds of things that are going to help us help the students,” said Thurman.

Nonacademic data has traditionally been one component of the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS), which was abandoned with by the passage of Senate Bill 1 during the 2009 General Assembly. Graduation rates are required to be reported under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Other nonacademic data included as a component to CATS are statistics of attendance and retention, or the number of students that repeat a grade. District wide attendance for 2008 was 93.8 percent (state rate 94 percent) and the retention rate was .38 percent (state rate 2.55 percent).