State dropout rate rises slightly

JACKSON – Mississippi’s efforts to improve its graduation-dropout rate took a small step backward this past year with the class of 2009.
The state Department of Education said in a news release Thursday that the graduation rate for this past year was 71.4 percent and the dropout rate was 16.7 percent.
The new statistics compare with a graduation rate of 72 percent and dropout rate of 16 percent for the previous year and of 73.8 percent and 15.9 percent for the year before that.
The rate three years ago, the first for the current method of calculating the graduation-dropout rate, was 70.8 percent-17.6 percent.
Tom Burnham, who became state superintendent of education earlier this year, said the state Board of Education’s goal of reducing the state dropout rate to 13 percent by 2013 is still attainable.
“School districts across the state have adopted programs aimed at keeping students in school and on a path to graduate,” he said. “Legislation passed over the past few years will also help address this issue.”
The legislation Burnham was referring to include bills that give the state Board more authority to aid, and even take over, underperforming schools and that require more transparency in the performance of schools.
Plus, Burnham said the new academic and accountability standards put in place by the board will help in reducing the dropout rate, which the state board, elected officials and business leaders have identified as one of Mississippi’s top priorities.
A few of the Northeast Mississippi school districts were among the best in the state in terms of their graduation rate, including Booneville at 87 percent and Tishomingo at 85.4 percent.
Some area school districts struggled, such as Houston at 57.7 percent, Oktibbeha at 54.1 percent and West Point at 55.4 percent.
Tupelo’s graduation rate was 71.1 percent while Lee was 66.6. On the Lee County lines, were Baldwyn at 71.4 percent and Nettleton at 58.9 percent.
The state board has put an emphasis on the gradation-dropout rates as the technology at the Department of Education has improved, making it easier to track students.
The graduation-dropout rates do not include students who might have completed their coursework to earn a special education certificate. They would be included as “completers.”
For the past year, the state’s combined completer-graduation rate was 79 percent. When the 79 percent completer-graduation rate and dropout rates are combined, it still does not account for 100 percent of students.
The difference could include students who finished in five years or those who died while still in high school.
In the past, state board members have bemoaned the inability under national standards to account for dropouts who later earn their GED.
House Education Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who was one of the first state leaders to stress the importance of reducing the dropout rate, said the focus on the issue has spurred “dropout recovery” programs to guide people who do not graduate toward GED programs.
“It’s going to be slow improving the graduation rate,” he said. “But I think by putting focus on it we are heading in the right direction … For a while the statistics are going to be up and down.”
To solve the problem, Brown said it will take a community-by-community effort with diverse leaders stressing the importance of education.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal