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Dropout Rate Rises To 22.9%

by Melissa Bailey | Dec 13, 2013 12:04 pm

(9) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Schools, School Reform

NHPS A new report shows New Haven has suffered a slight setback in reaching one of its main school reform goals: Cutting the dropout rate in half.

The high school dropout rate for the Class of 2013 rose from 20.7 to 22.9 percent, according to school officials.

The four-year graduation rate fell slightly, from 70.9 to 70.3 percent.

Meanwhile, on a positive note, the school district is beginning to show modest progress in getting more of its graduates to enroll in—and stick with—college.

That news is buried in a 12-page report the school district released on Thursday summing up the Mayor John DeStefano’s school reform effort, which took effect in city schools in 2010. 

Click here to read the report.

The report gives a general overview of the school reform drive, which has received national attention, mainly for the way the teachers union and management have worked together. The report charts the initiative’s progress in meeting three main goals within five years: Close the achievement gap with the state on standardized tests, cut the dropout rate in half, and ensure all kids can succeed in college.

Dropout Rate

The dropout rate isn’t official. The official stats come from the state. Those won’t be released until next spring or summer, according to state education spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly. Because the state takes so long to calculate graduation rates, the district has been crunching the numbers on its own. The district’s internal estimates tend to line up pretty well with the state’s.

The preliminary data suggests a setback in an otherwise positive trend. The school district has set a goal to cut the dropout rate in half, from 27 to 13.5 percent, by 2015.

To calculate the four-year graduation rate, officials start with the new freshmen who join New Haven schools by Oct. 1, and follow them over four years. Students who join the district along the way are added to the group. Students who transfer out-of-district or out-of-state are not counted. Students who transfer to adult education and get GEDs are counted as dropouts. Those who are still enrolled in school after three years are counted in their own category. (See the top of the story for the stats.)

Harries said when the district calculated its dropout rate in September, the numbers looked better. That’s because there were more kids counted as “still enrolled” in school. By October, some of those kids had dropped out, boosting the dropout rate two points higher than last year, he said.

The 2-point rise in the dropout rate “is significant,” Harries said. But “the important thing for us is the long-term trend.” Overall, more kids are graduating than before the reform drive started.

Harries was asked what he intends to do about the dropout rate.

“I’ve made disengaged youth a significant priority” for his tenure as superintendent, which began in July, Harries said. He has not announced any specific policy changes so far, but he said he expects to. As part of a reorganization of district administrative staff, Harries placed the truancy office directly under his supervision.

“We want to keep driving the dropout rate down,” Harries said. “We’re going to have to really invest in both high-quality K-8 learning, and really retaining kids in high school.” He said initiatives under way to help with high school completion include: “mastery-based” learning at High School in the Community and other high schools; closely tracking course failures in the 9th grade, “a key predictor of long-term success in high school”; and “strengthening summer school and other credit remediation programs.”

“Regardless of the progress we’ve made, we’re not where we want to be in terms of dropout or any other performance metrics,” Harries said.

The district has not yet released graduation rates for individual schools for the Class of 2013. The numbers for the Class of 2012 were released in January.

College Persistence

School officials also announced modest progress on a difficult challenge: Increasing the number of city kids who enroll in, and stick with, college.

“College persistence remains a challenge for New Haven Public Schools,” the report reads: 64 percent of the Class of 2011 enrolled in a first year of college; 49 percent enrolled in a second year. (Translation: 49 percent of kids enrolled in a third semester of college within two years of graduating from high school.)

The district has set a goal to boost those numbers by 2015, so that 85 percent of city high school grads enroll in college, and 75 percent stay through to a second year.

Those numbers stayed flat for one year, then rose by two points on each measure this year.

Harries called the change a “modest increase that will only be significant if it’s the start of a longer-term trend.”

“Hopefully this is an early sign of accelerating success,” he said.

He noted that college persistence is “the most lagging indicator” of the school change initiative. For students in the classes of 2010 to 2013, “most of their time in the system has not been under the focus of school change,” he noted.

College persistence is a new area of accountability for the K-12 system. Before, the school district didn’t track this data. Now it hires a not-for-profit called the National Student Clearinghouse to collect the data, and holds high schools accountable for how their graduates fare.

“We won’t rest until every high school graduate has the tools and knowledge to succeed in college and beyond,” the report reads.

Achievement Gap

The report shows modest progress towards the ambitious goal of closing the achievement gap between New Haven and the state in five years, as measured by state standardized tests.

For K-8 schools, the gap has shrunk from 19 to 18 points between the spring of 2010 (before the reform drive) and 2013. For high schools, it has shrunk from 24 to 22 points in that time period.

The report, a glossy brochure produced by the New Haven public schools, aims to sum up the main initiatives of the reform drive for an outside audience, according to Harries. It will be used for fundraising and communication to folks who aren’t following the effort day to day.

“It’s by no means a deep policy report,” Harries said. “Just the basics of what school change is.”

He said the effort is undergoing rigorous analysis by outside groups. Morgaen Donaldson, an assistant professor of educational leadership at UConn’s education school, recently won a National Academy of Education (NAEd) Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship to study the city’s teacher evaluation system.

New Haven Promise is working with the Rand Corporation to conduct its own analysis of the school change effort, Harries added.

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posted by: anonymous on December 13, 2013  12:37pm

Considering that the number of students in a class is fairly small (hundreds, not hundreds of thousands), one year changes like these are often due to noise or cohort effects.  They really aren’t worth talking about in a brochure, or in a news headline.

In the case of exams, small changes are also due to differences on the exam each year.

If RAND Corporation is honest, they will probably find few significant changes in any of the trends over the past 10 years.  In Connecticut, low income students are at least five times less likely to graduate than their peers, as they have always been, and students who are low income and have other disadvantages are between 10 and 20 times less likely to graduate.  While there are plenty of anecdotes about individual schools, no school system has been proven to change these underlying realities in any meaningful way.  Outside of New Haven, performance is getting worse because the middle class of Connecticut is evaporating.

Any trends seen in New Haven may be due simply to a small increase in the relative number of middle class students in New Haven (or at least, a stable number here), when compared to districts like West Haven, East Haven, and Meriden, where the middle class is rapidly disappearing.  The statewide test scores get better every year for a reason - setting up the tests that way allows the many suburban districts that are getting worse each year to at least show a level trend.

If we want to fix the schools, we should look beyond them.  Some of the new programs (like BOOST and Promise) begin to do step up the game, but they are a drop in the bucket.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 13, 2013  12:49pm

I get so frustrated with the BOE’s inability to analyze these numbers beyond the up and down bar chart of the moment.

With all statistical samples, there is expected variation—is the change in the drop out rate statistically significant????  Are there individual schools that have shown improvement beyond this expected variation?

Is there actually a schooled statistician in the bloated BOE Budget?
That might be a good start if we are interested in pursuing real change.

We can’t be chasing ghosts…...

posted by: Razzie on December 13, 2013  1:38pm


What do you mean “If RAND Corporation is honest,...”? Is there any reason to suspect that they won’t be?

BTW: your ability to explain away numbers you haven’t even seen is truly amazing ... to me at least. From the nonexistent numbers you discern trends and causes for the trends. Absolutely amazing!

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 13, 2013  2:38pm


Pages 21-30

posted by: anonymous on December 13, 2013  2:55pm


Good evaluations are honest and transparent. There is no reason to think that RAND would be dishonest. If Rand makes all of their data public, then there will be no reason to suspect otherwise, as other people will be able to look at it and decide for themselves.

The fact that so many other research groups, from both the left and the right, have accused RAND of dishonesty and failing to reveal its analysis in the past, is probably a good sign that they are fairly objective.

Detailed information about every school and every grade are posted on the State website, and released by school districts every year.  By “nonexistent numbers,” do you mean figures for the next year or two? Do you think future trends for one year will show a significant change from the trends observed every year for the past years/decades?  Everyone hopes that they do, but the past is often the best guide.

posted by: Citizen X on December 13, 2013  8:22pm

For the third year in a row, the NHI’s report on dropout rates contains perspective only from district officials. It has been an obvious trend that the NHI has become a PR arm of the superintendent, allowing for only his perspective in nearly every story.

A quarter of the students in this city are not completing graduation requirements. Maybe it is time for additional perspectives than just those who are overseeing such a result.

I am left to wonder if the reporting is lazy or protectionary.

I found this contact from a Department of Education press release in less than 15 seconds:

Contact: Kelly Donnelly
Connecticut State Department of Education
860-713-1550 (office)
860-983-7550 (mobile)
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Talk to them. Ask them if such rates are acceptable. Or if other communities have found ways to impact these kind of failings.

Here was another 15-second search:

Brett Broesder
ConnCAN Communications Director
Office: (203) 772-4017 ext. 19
Mobile: (406) 565-0083
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

That organization’s mission is to improve education outcomes for Connecticut’s kids by bringing advocates, policy makers, parents and educators together to change the system and give all kids access to the great public schools they deserve. They talk about transparency, accountability and turning around chronically failing schools.

Quit taking the lone word of a person who is trying to protect his own. Why is the NHI giving the new superintendent such a pass? Time to put some independence back in the Independent.

posted by: Syne on December 14, 2013  12:30pm

Invest in “high-quality K-8 learning,” said Garth Harries.  Best way?  Reduce student:teacher ratios.  Put more teachers into schools so that instruction can be differentiated to meet student learning needs.  Teachers in New Haven are overextended.  Money must be redirected from new programs or new curriculum to new personnel.  It’s the person working with the student that will make all the difference.

posted by: HewNaven on December 15, 2013  2:22pm


exactly right. There aren’t many methods that are guaranteed to improve urban schooling, and we can continue to waste time and money on meaningless statistical data like this and scratch our heads, but there is still one thing that we all know does work: REDUCE THE STUDENT/TEACHER RATIO. My brief experience working at one of NH’s alternative High Schools opened my eyes to the potential of small class size and student-specific curricula. One size does not fit all. The entire history of education can be viewed as an experiment designed to prove that one size does not fit all.

posted by: robn on December 16, 2013  2:53pm

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