City school officials decided to do the real math on the number of kids dropping out of high school, and set a new goal for keeping them there.
New Haven’s Class of 2008 had a dropout rate of 27.4 percent—not 15.7 percent, as previously reported—school officials announced at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
Historically, the city has relied on a flawed calculation that underrepresented the number of students who drop out of school. The method was the standard set by the state. It took all the kids who started 9th grade (minus those who transferred out) and measured whether they dropped out by the end of 12th grade. It didn’t count kids who joined the district after 9th grade, so it missed a lot of kids.
Using that method, the state reported that New Haven’s Class of 2008 had a 15.7 percent dropout rate.
Recognizing the flaws in that old counting system, the state is revising its dropout formula. It has taken a break from reporting dropout data while it builds a new system that will track students through high school.
Meanwhile, New Haven has taken its own swing at figuring out its dropout rate as part of a citywide school reform campaign.
School reform czar Garth Harries (at left in photo above) said that the new calculation is meant to be “more intuitive” than the method used in the past.
The new method starts with the number of kids in 9th grade on Oct. 1. 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.
Here are the numbers Harries laid out for the Class of 2008.
A total of 1,514 students were enrolled in the district as freshmen on Oct. 1, 2004. Another 661 joined their class in the next four years. Another 169 transferred to adult education to get a diploma; 550 more transferred out for other reasons.
That leaves 1,554 students in the so-called “cohort.”
After four years, where were they?
• 970 had graduated from high school (62.4 percent).
• 158 were still enrolled in high school (10.2 percent).
• 49 had “discontinued education.
• 183 had “unknown” whereabouts.
• 194 left to get a GED.
The people in the last three categories were all counted as dropouts.
That leaves the dropout rate at 27.4 percent, according to the numbers Harries provided.
Harries also gave a breakdown comparing students in magnet schools, comprehensive high schools and other programs.
Magnet school students showed a much higher graduation rate: 83.1 percent, compared to 53.6 percent for comprehensive high schools. The respective dropout rates were 11.5 percent and 36.3 percent.
Harries said he also has school-by-school data but is not yet ready to release it.
The district crunched the numbers in order to move forward with goal-setting for the school reform drive.
Since he launched the reform effort, Mayor John DeStefano has said he aims to “cut the dropout rate in half” over the course of five years, starting this fall. Before Monday, he never quantified that goal.
Based on the new numbers, Harries announced a new goal: Cut the dropout rate to 13.5 percent in the next five years. (That’s half of 27 percent.)
Graduating from high school has a direct correlation to health, wealth and having a job later in life. To help keep kids in school, the district plans to develop “credit remediation programs,” and to “strengthen ‘stay-in-school’ PR and student-to-student campaigns.”
The announcement came as part of a larger presentation setting broad goals for the school reform drive, including how the district aims to close the achievement gap in five years.
The draft was based on work done with the city’s reform committee, which includes teachers, administrators and parents. Teachers union President Dave Cicarella said he is on board with the goals.
Harries said the new formula for calculating the dropout rate is based on the National Governors Association’s “Compact Rate,” a four-year graduation rate. That’s what the state’s method will be based on, Harries said.
The state has yet to produce district-level data using its new dropout formula. Starting with the Class of 2009, the state will use unique identifiers to track students from 9th to graduation.
In March, the state released preliminary statewide data using the new counting method. State Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan reported a 79.3 percent graduation rate statewide, with “alarming” disparities between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts.
Statewide, only 58.1 percent of Hispanics and 66.2 percent of African-Americans graduated high school in four years, according to the report.
Harries also gave some new numbers showing for the first time how many high school seniors go on to college.
Of the graduating class of 2008, 50 percent were enrolled in college two years after graduation. The district’s goal is to boost that number to 75 percent in five years.