The Prince William County student dropout rate has declined slightly since 1996, despite a significant increase in students.
The dropout rate among seventh- through 12th-grade students was 3.24 percent in 1996-97 school year.
In 2002, it was 2.07 percent, even with 5,597 more students in those grades.
“Attendance officers and school counselors work very diligently in September to contact students who have not returned to school, stressing the importance of their return,” said Cheryl Hiett, supervisor of student support services. The school division’s staff works with students and their families throughout the school year, and when appropriate, discusses alternatives, such as the general equivalency diploma, or provides links to community support services.
Nationally, dropout rates declined significantly in the 1970s and 1980s, but have stagnated since then, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report released this month.
In 2001, 86.5 percent of adults nationwide were high school graduates. High school completion rates increased by 2.8 percent to 85.6 percent between 1972 and 1990.
Since then the rate has fluctuated between 84.8 and 86.5 percent, according to the report.
Jay Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Education Research Office, said the outlook is even bleaker because the report is flawed. Saying that graduation rates actually peaked in the 1960s, and now are at about 71 percent, Greene said the report does not take several factors into consideration, including jailed dropouts. Self-reporting also distorts the picture, according to Greene.
“People are embarrassed if they’ve dropped out of high school and they’d rather not say that they dropped out,” said Greene, who also said that the surveyed population is not asked to distinguish between a high school diploma and a GED.
“We know that GED recipients and regular high school graduates have very different outcomes later in life. So, lumping those two groups together is misleading and confusing,” said Greene.
But the national center stands by the estimates in its report, according to Associate Commissioner Valena Plisko. Still, the center asked two other education institutes to form a task force, of which Greene is a member, last year to recommend improvements in high school graduation, completion and dropout indicators.
Released this week, those recommendations include tracking individual students through high school and establishing a method of calculating dropout rates across states and school divisions.
Being a smaller school division aids in tracking attendance, according to Renée Bolton, at-risk student case manager for Manassas City Public Schools, which had about 3,049 students in seventh grade and higher last year.
“We have the advantage of having a small school system . . . we have a leg up on bigger divisions because we know who’s missing and we know when they’re not here,” said Bolton.
Manassas’ drop-out rate was as high as 4 percent about 12 years ago. Now, it’s at 2.12 percent, still slightly higher than 2002’s 1.55 percent.
That increase of 1 percent warrants attention, not alarm, according to Bolton. Phone calls, letters, home visits, parent/staff conferences will continue to address the issue.