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Rhode Island Dropout Rate on the Rise

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Despite the efforts of the Rhode Island Department of Education, high school students in the Ocean State continue to drop out of school far more frequently than their counterparts in other New England states and graduate at the second-worst rate in the region, according to a GoLocalProv review of data provided by this week by the US Department of Education.

The figures focus on students who have either received a high school diploma or alternative credential and provide an estimate of the percentage of high school students that graduate within a four-year period. In addition, the results show the graduation rates of every state in the country and the dropout rates of students who enrolled and failed to complete their schooling.

In both categories, Rhode Island struggles.

With a total of 2,166 dropouts, or 4.6 percent, Rhode Island has the highest dropout percentage in New England and the 10th-highest in the country. This runs in addition to the state’s graduation rate of 76.4 percent, which is 33rd overall in the country.

The results of the data, which are the first unveiling of nationwide information from the 2009-2010 school year, also show that Rhode Island is tied with Connecticut for the country’s largest gap between the dropout rates of its male and female students.

In a statement issued this week, Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Deborah Gist said the state has already begun targeting its low graduation rate, which stands at 76.4 percent in the latest-available data, and hopes to have it up as much as 10 percentage points in the next few years.

“The overall objective of our strategic plan, Transforming Education in Rhode Island, is to ensure that all of our students are ready for success in college, careers, and life,” Gist said. “To move us toward that objective, we have established as a goal that by 2015 we will have a four-year graduation rate of 85 percent. We are on target toward meeting that goal.”

Graduation rate holding steady

Rhode Island currently has a graduation rate of 76.4 percent. Of the state’s 12,966 students that were estimated to be first-time ninth graders in 2006-2007, a total of 9,908 students either received their degree or an appropriate alternative credential by the time they would have been scheduled to graduate in the 2009-2010 school year.

The numbers put the Ocean State behind Vermont (91.4 percent), New Hampshire (86.3), Maine (82.8) and Massachusetts (82.6) and slightly above neighbor Connecticut, which graduated 75.1 percent of its students.

Nationwide, RI was ranked 33rd overall, coming up just above Delaware (75.5), Michigan (75.9) and Oregon (76.3) and just below New York (76.0), Indiana (77.2) and Washington (77.2).

Despite the fact that the Rhode Island’s 76.4 percentage is actually an improvement over the 2008-2009 school year’s mark of 75.3 percent, the Ocean State’s graduation rate has slipped in its national ranking in recent years.

Rhode Island was tied for 30th in the 2008-2009 school year with a 75.3 percent graduation rate, tied for 25th the year before with a 76.4 percent rate and was ranked 21st overall in 2006-2007 with its 78.4 percent graduation rate.

Over the past eight years, Rhode Island’s graduation rate has consistently been in the mid-high 70s, with a high of 78.4 in both 2004-2005 and 2006-2007 and a low of 75.3 during the 2008-2009 school year.

Dropout rate on the rise

Rhode Island’s bigger problem is its dropout rate, which had been falling steadily over the previous three years prior to 2009-2010.

Of the 46,934 high school students from RI enrolled in the most recent data, a total of 2,166 dropped out or failed to complete their coursework.

That gives the Ocean State an effective dropout rate of 4.6 percent, which is much worse than every state in the region with the exception of Maine and its 4.2 percent dropout rate.

New Hampshire leads all New England states with a low 1.2 percent dropout rate, following by Vermont (2.4), Massachusetts (2.8) and Connecticut (3.0).

Over time, Rhode Island has steadily been at the bottom of New England in this category, finishing as the worst state in the region for dropouts in both 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 and finishing as the worst state in the region to report statistics for three out of the four school years between 2004-2008.

A key factor to look at when analyzing dropout rates are the rates of students leaving school by grade. According to the Department of Education, dropout rates increase as grade-level increases.

Rhode Island does not conform with this nationwide trend as it has a dropout rate of 4.4 percent among freshman and senior students and a 4.7 percent dropout rate among juniors.

Sophomores in the state, however, represented the biggest dropout rate with a total of 613 students in that class leaving school, or 5.0 percent overall.

Rhode Island’s dropout rate had been steadily declining prior to the most recent year of data, from a high of 5.8 percent in 2006-2007 to 5.3 in 2007-2008 to a low of 4.4 in 2008-2009 before the 2009-2010 rate increase two-tenths of a percentage point to 4.6 percent.

Rhode Island is tied with California for the 10th worst dropout rate in the country, which is three spots higher than in 2008-2009.

Black, Hispanic students struggle

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the data released this week involves graduation and dropout rates of students of different races.

Black and Hispanic students in Rhode Island graduated at a statistically significant lower rate than their White, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native counterparts in 2009-2010. Of the state’s approximately 1,166 Black students, only 74.2 percent, or a total of 865, graduated. Of the approximate 2,262Hispanic students in RI, a mere 69.1 percent or 1,563 graduated.

Comparably, 76.3 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native graduated, as did 78.3 percent of White students and 82 percent of Asian students in the state, which were both the lowest percentages for those races in the region.

Black and Hispanic students also dropout more frequently than their White or Asian counterparts, with respective rates of 6.6 and 6.8 percent compared to 3.8 percent for White students and a New England-worst 4.5 percent for Asian students.

All told, American Indian/Alaska Native students have the highest dropout percentage in Rhode Island as 8.5 percent of those students did not finish school in the four-year period ending in the 2009-2010 school year.

Rhode Island ranks near the bottom statistically in nearly every race-based dropout rate nationwide, coming in 34th overall for Black students, 39th overall for American Indian/Alaska Native students, 40th for White students, 42nd for Hispanic students and 45th for Asian students.

A Large Gender Gap

The final category of information presented by the Department of Education involved perceived gender gaps in dropout rates between male and female students.

Rhode Island saw 5.5 percent of its male students drop out in 2009-2010, which placed it as the 11th worst state in the country in that category. Overall, just 3.8 percent of female students in the state dropped out, putting Rhode Island as the 16th worst state for that gender.

The 1.7 percent difference between male and female students, tied Rhode Island with Connecticut for the largest dropout rate gap between genders in the country.

Gist confident change is coming

Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Debra Gist says the state has a goal of graduating 85 percent of its students by 2015.

The stark realities of the data presented this week came as a surprise given recent studies and trends that show Rhode Island’s education system is showing improvement.

According to Gist, the figures from 2009-2010 don’t show the changes the state has made since then and RIDE remains confident that the programs put in place to address the state’s graduation rate and dropout rate are working.

“Since 2009, our four-year graduation rate has improved slightly, to 77 percent, and our five-year graduation has improved by three percentage points to 80 percent,” Gist said. “Most important, our Diploma System, which focuses on proficiency-based graduation requirements and maintaining high expectations for all students, will ensure that our graduates will truly be ready for the challenges they will face in postsecondary education and careers.”

Gist says that educators in Rhode Island are paying special attention to try to identify students who are at risk of failing as early as sixth grade and to give those students “the support they will need to succeed in high school.”

“This support includes individual learning plans and personal literacy plans, as well as programs for afterschool instruction, virtual learning, and credit recovery to keep potential dropouts on course toward graduation,” Gist said.
“When implemented well, these programs can have dramatic effects on the lives of our students, as we have seen at Central Falls High School, where in 2011 the four-year graduation rate improved from 54 percent to 71 percent.

As we continue our work toward transforming education, we expect to see similar dramatic improvements in other communities across our state. 


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These figures suggest either that Rhode Island high school students believe it is possible to make a satisfactory living in the state without a high school diploma or that Rhode Island high school students believe any benefits of having a high school diploma in Rhode Island are not worth their effort. Both of those statements reflect poorly on the Rhode Island economy and the businesses that exist here.

Comment #1 by Charles Beckers on 2013 01 24

Historically RI as an industrial manufacturing economy did not invest very heavily in education, particularly secondary or post secondary education. With the end of manufacturing the political and business classes continued to try and fund education as little as possible. This has left us with an education system that is impovished and does not serve students or their communities. When one looks st the communities where education is the worst it is those old industrial centers that never were adequately funded. Education is a long term investment that is not cheap and history has consequences and we are seeing those consequences today.

Comment #2 by Eloise O'Shea-Wyatt on 2013 01 24

How about study on cost per student and its relationship to graduation rates. Does throwing more money at the situation make things any better, for the students?

Comment #3 by David Beagle on 2013 01 24

When you are talking about money especially today you are talking about the theft of tax dollars by private corporate interests and private individuals. Money beig spent today DOES NOT GO INTO THE CLASSROOM IT GOES TO CONSULTANTS, TESTING COMPANIES AND CHARTER SCHOOL MANAGERS. Not one dime of Race to the Top money went to schools it is all went to RIDE and their corporate partners. Is his where people rally want to see thier tax dollars going?

Comment #4 by Eloise O'Shea-Wyatt on 2013 01 24

To begin, the drop out rate is not accurately reported. If a student graduates in 5 years he or she is still counted as a dropout. Secondly, the absenteeism in the urban districts is out of control. Absenteeism starts as early as kindergarten and is out of control by high school. Students too often miss school to babysit, work, or go translate for their parents or simply because they are "lost". The state must enforce the truancy laws. By not enforcing the truancy laws, the state is enabling absenteeism and increasing the drop out rate. Education is not valued in the districts where the drop out rates are high. Very little if any investment is made in the child's education . Some families will not invest a dollar in education - must be how they can afford to go back to their countries for six weeks every Christmas!

Comment #5 by LENNY BRUCE on 2013 01 25

If the student...and more importantly, the parents...saw value in gaining a high school diploma, truancy would not be a problem.

Comment #6 by Charles Beckers on 2013 01 25

Everybody knows that poverty is the number one barrier to a child’s access to a good education. I would suggest our “journalists” focus on poverty in RI, then we may be made aware of the root cause of our high unemployment, dropout rates, and most of all, RI’s “market based” attitude toward our children’s future: “Its not personal, just business”.

Comment #7 by Charles Marsh on 2013 01 25

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