Interesting, Terribly Disturbing Dropout Data

This interesting data available on the ERDC website shows the dropout rates as a whole, but also shows them disaggregated by grade and by demographics.

This is interesting data, but of course it’s also terribly disturbing.  Each data point is a young person whose life prospects are significantly and sometimes irreparably harmed.  Sometimes the decision to dropout is based on apathy. In other cases, it’s essentially a forced choice — driven by trauma and circumstances in their life, such as homelessness and other seemingly overwhelming obstacles. This is some of the most troubling data we look at in K-12.

Analytically, there are some noteworthy trends in the data. Immediately obvious is the declining dropout rates by grade over time – certainly good news. Yet, there are some interesting spikes in the data. One wonders what happened in 2003-04, when 12th grade dropout rates went through an interesting one year drop, then rebounded (see inserted arrow). Whatever impacted the 12th grade curve that year did not have the same impact on grades 9, 10, or 11; while 12th spikes up, the others continue down.


Also interesting (though heartbreaking) is the trend in the dropout rates across grades in a single year. For the ‘all students’ group, rates gradually climb upwards, with the senior year showing a noticeable increase from junior year, and senior year typically being about double that of freshmen year. The incline is generally steady.

But this trend line does not hold true for all subgroups. You’ll notice that for our Language Learner students, the dropout rate as seniors is nearly three times that of freshmen (see table below); producing an atypical spike in the senior year.


A similar trend presents for males. Male and female dropout rates are fairly parallel up through the junior year. The senior year, they split, with the male rate nearly 38 percent higher (8.0% compared to 5.8%).

For these three points in the data – senior year spike in 03-04, and ELL and gender senior year disparities – I would be interested in hearing your hypotheses. What do you think explains these troubling trends? How can we combat them? (Please respond by clicking ‘Leave a Comment’ below)

~ Ben Rarick,
Executive Director

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3 Responses to Interesting, Terribly Disturbing Dropout Data

  1. Ken Hansen says:

    Drop out rates likely spike during the senior year because those students who are behind for part or all of their high school years finally realize they are not going to graduate and move on.

  2. SBE says:

    Here is a comment that was sent to SBE via email:
    The blogpost asked for any hypotheses regarding the data. While I can’t say much about the gender disparity issue, as a counselor who worked at a high school with a large group of English Language Learners, I do have some ideas about this. Many ELL students do not come to the U.S. until they are 16 and older, but the come with very little English proficiency. They want desperately to graduate on time, but cannot pass the state tests in Reading and Writing and also need extra time to earn 4 English credits required for graduation. Many become frustrated as they get beyond age 18 and drop out. Even though it makes no sense, they prefer to attend community college and pay for remedial classes, rather than continue at the high school and feel like failures because they are at school with younger students. I am not suggesting that we should waive the test or credit requirements. I do think that we could set up a free evening program at our community colleges where students can continue to earn high school credits and work on passing their state exams for the purpose of graduating. These students are not able to access Running Start due to the English proficiency requirement, and the current ELL programs at the community college do not lead to high school credits/HSPE readiness. That being said, I think this kind of program could easily be accommodated through our current community college ELL programs.


  3. SBE says:

    Here is a comment that was sent to SBE via email:
    When a student falls farther and farther behind his/her peers and there is little or no remediation and then the student is passed along to the next grade eventually that student will give up upon the realization they can’t pass the final graduation requirements (or specific class). More CTE / shadowing opportunities should be given to those students. That means the student should learn skills while doing meaningful work and get paid.


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