High School Dropouts

At the other end of the achievement spectrum from SAT test takers are dropouts. Studies have shown that students who drop out of school are more likely to be lower-performing students prior to leaving.

Despite the importance of reducing dropout rates, data on school dropouts are relatively poor. States define and collect dropout data in different ways, making comparisons difficult. Differences among school districts create similar problems in comparing dropout rates within California.

While California fares poorly in comparison to the selected states, dropout rates appear to be declining. As with NAEP and SAT scores, significant differences appear when data are arrayed based on race and ethnicity. Unfortunately, the data generally do not permit examination of other factors, such as family income and education, that could affect dropout rates.

fig 17

Figure 17

  • This figure shows the percentage of youth ages 16 through 19 who are not in school and do not have a high school diploma for California, the comparison states, and the nation as a whole. These data are based on census counts.
  • California, Arizona, and Florida show dropout rates exceeding 14 percent in 1990.
  • In contrast, New York and the nation as a whole have substantially lower rates-about 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

fig 18

Figure 18

  • This figure shows how California's dropout rate accumulates by ninth grade and by twelfth grade. These data are collected by schools and are not comparable to data in the figure on page 15.
  • By the end of ninth grade, 3.5 percent of white and Asian-American students have dropped out. During the tenth through twelfth grades, about 3 percent of each class drops out each year, yielding a total six-year dropout rate for these two groups of 14 percent.
  • The rates for African-Americans and Hispanics are much higher, however. Dropout rates by the end of ninth grade for these groups total about 11 percent. During the tenth through twelfth grades, 9 to 10 percent of students drop out each year, resulting in a total six-year dropout rate of more than 30 percent.

fig 19

Figure 19

  • This figure displays three-year dropout rates (dropouts in tenth through twelfth grades only) from 1986-87 through 1991-92.
  • Reported three-year dropout rates have declined significantly in California since 1987-68. The dropout rate stood at 17 percent in 1991-92, a decline of five percentage points since 1987-88.
  • The attrition rate (the percentage of tenth-grade students who do not graduate from the same district three years later), however, fell only 2.1 percentage points over the same period. The relatively smaller drop in attrition rates suggests the decline in the dropout rate may be overstated. This fends credence to concerns about the dropout data expressed by some educators.

Content Contact:
Candy Friedly
Office Manager
Institute for Education Reform
California State University, Sacramento
6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819-6018
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Last Updated: February, 1994

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