Number of Polk County dropouts rises 44 percent

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The state reported a dropout rate of 4.97 percent in 2007-08, down from 5.24 percent in 2006-07. According to state figures, 22,434 students dropped out in the last school year, 1,116 fewer than in 2006-07.&bsp; It was the first decrease in the state&squo;s dropout rate since 2004-05.

State figures also showed that 105 fewer students in Western North Carolina dropped out in 2007-08 compared to the previous year.

Polk County Schools Supt. Bill Miller said it&squo;s frustrating to see the total rise in Polk County. He has said even one dropout is too many, and the school system is always striving to keep the number of dropouts to a minimum.

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Miller says there are many factors beyond academic performance that lead students to drop out. The school system works closely with each student to try to find a way to keep them in school, he says, but isn&39;t always successful.

In recent years, Polk County Schools has expanded the number of educational opportunities, seeking to offer paths that work for each student. Polk County offers more vocational programs, including an educational farm, and started a Virtual Early College, which provides an alternative learning environment. The school system also offers an academic recovery program and counseling services for students at risk of dropping out.

According to the department of public instruction, the biggest reason for dropping out in the 2007-08 year was attendance (48 percent), followed by enrollment in community college (16.4 percent). Students who dropped out also cited &dquo;academic problems&dquo; (7.2 percent), &dquo;moved, school status unkown&dquo; (6.4 percent) and choice of work over school (3.4 percent).

Discipline problems, unstable home environment, pregnancy and health problems are also identified as some of the numerous reasons.

State figures showed that, as in past years, students dropped out most frequently at grade 9 (32.6 percent), followed by grade 10 (25.2 percent), grade 11 (23.3 percent) and grade 12 (14.8 percent).

North Carolina&squo;s compulsory school law requires school attendance for all children between the ages of seven and 16. State officials say it is, therefore, reasonable that dropout rates increase as students reach 16 years of age.

State Superintendent June Atkinson says it&squo;s good to see the number of dropouts down across the state, and schools must continue to employ a variety of intervention strategies to address the dropout rate. The state board has said a 100 percent graduation rate is its mission for North Carolina.

Atkinson says the decrease in the annual dropout rate should lead to increases over the next few years in the four-year cohort graduation rate ‐ the number of students who graduate from high school four years after entering ninth grade. Dropout students count as non-graduates unless they enroll in another school on track at some point. The four-year graduation rate in 2007-08 was 70.3 percent.