Arlington questions dropout ranking

A new Johns Hopkins University study that places Arlington High School on a national list of high schools with high dropout rates comes as a surprise to school district leaders.

“There has to be four or five different ways to figure out dropout rates,” said Warren Hopkins, the school district’s deputy superintendent. “I doubt that our data would match up with (federal) Department of Education data if that’s where Johns Hopkins got their information from.”

Annual analyses by the Arlington School District and state of Washington find smaller dropout rates and more students graduating in four or five years.

According to the study, which analyzed federal Department of Education data, there are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year. The Associated Press paid for the study.

Researchers also found that more than one in 10 high schools across America and 7.6 percent in Washington state fall in that range. Arlington High School was the only high school from Snohomish County and one of 22 from the state on the list.

Hopkins said he has not seen a copy of the Johns Hopkins study, but would like to be able to examine it.

“I can’t even speculate on how they are doing it,” Hopkins said.

Arlington is still studying its 2007 dropout figures.

District officials calculate that it had 605 students as freshmen four years ago, including 417 who attended the district’s middle school and 188 students who enrolled later.

Of those students, 68 or 11.3 percent, are considered dropouts for a variety of reasons. For example, 19 were dropped from the school for poor attendance, 17 simply could not be tracked and 10 earned their General Education Development certificates, better known as a GED.

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction also is leery of the report.

“It appears their methodologies are vastly different than ours,” said Nathan Olson, a spokesman for the agency.

For instance, the state calculated the dropout rate over four years at Arlington High School to be 10.6 percent during the 2005-2006 school year.

There is a big difference between an on-time graduation rate and a dropout rate, Arlington and state officials said.

Some students transfer to other schools or take more than four years to finish high school, and those students might be calculated into the federal numbers, they said.

The best studies on graduation and dropout rates track individual students rather than rely on estimates, Olson said. The state is getting closer to being able to do that, but for now relies on estimates.

Two years ago, a state study showed that efforts to get high school students to finish their graduation requirements were paying off for local school districts.

More Snohomish County teenagers graduated and fewer dropped out of high school during the 2004-05 school year.

Across the county, 1,776 teenagers in the ninth through 12th grades dropped out, about 350 fewer than the year before

The rate of students quitting school in the county fell from 6.4 percent to 5.5 percent in 2005.

Over a four-year period, 21.2 percent of Snohomish County students originally part of the class of 2005 dropped out. That was down from 23.6 percent for the class of 2004.

The Arlington School District’s four-year graduation rate increased from 63.4 percent in 2004 to 77.2 percent. Its total graduation rate rose from 67.7 percent to 81.7 percent, according to that report. At the same time, its annual dropout rate dipped from 10.3 percent in 2003 to 3.9 percent in 2005.

District officials gave credit for the decline to early identifying students at risk of dropping out, and developing approaches that give them more individual attention.

One program, the Freshman Academy, includes smaller class sizes for students who struggled in middle school. As a result, more of the students who get extra help early on remain in school.

Schools are under increasing pressure to raise their graduation rates. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires schools to regularly graduate 85 percent of their annual senior class by 2014.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail stevick@heraldnet.com.

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