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School rates

July 31, 2003

By HERB BROCK

Staff Writer

The dropout rates in most of the area's eight school districts have decreased in recent years, reflecting a statewide downward trend in the percentages of high school students who leave school before graduation.

Attendance rates in most area school districts have also improved, and the area data also mirrored progress across the state.

Dropout and attendance figures for all Kentucky school districts were included in a "study of academic data" released Wednesday at a press conference in Frankfort.

Pupil personnel directors for several area school districts credit the development of special programs in recent years for the improved dropout and attendance rates.

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One of those programs is a special high school in Lincoln County where the focus of the curriculum and support programs is getting former dropouts back on track and heading toward diplomas. Family services programs, which are aimed at at-risk younger students, were cited for helping improve attendance rates.

According to the state study, the dropout rates in the area in 2002 ranged from lows of no dropouts in the Burgin district and 1.42 percent in the Mercer County district to a high of 6.81 percent in the Lincoln County district. All three rates were significantly lower than the 2001 rates for those districts.

Meanwhile, the statewide dropout rate for 2002 was 3.97 percent, a significant decrease from the 4.76 rate recorded in 2001.

The rates represent the percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 in a school, district or the state as a whole who were enrolled in those grades in a school but no longer are attending that school or any other school, according to education department spokesperson Lisa Gross.

The study also showed that attendance rates are on the increase. In 2002, most area districts reported attendance rates around 95 percent, with Mercer County recording the highest at 95.79 percent. Garrard County had the lowest attendance rate, at 92.99 percent.

For the state, the attendance rate in 2002 was 94.43 percent, which was a slight increase over the 94.15 percent recorded in 2001.

Attendance is a key statistic for local districts since they receive state funding based on average daily attendance, Gross said.

The study also reported data on retention rates and post-graduation activities of former students. In the latter category, which was measured just for 2002, at least half the graduates from most area high schools went to college. The college attendance rate ranged from 37 percent for Harrodsburg High School graduates to 75 percent for Danville High School graduates.

Pupil personnel directors pointed to several programs that their districts have implemented to keep as many at-risk students as possible in high school and to keep them coming to school as regularly as possible.

While Lincoln County High School's 2002 dropout rate of 6.81 percent and the Lincoln district's 2002 attendance rate of 94.22 were among the worst in the area, both figures represented marked improvements over figures recorded in previous years. The study shows that the LCHS dropout rate was 10.42 in 1999, 10.18 in 2000 and 8.61 in 2001. The Lincoln district attendance rate was 92.56 in 1999, 92.81 in 2000 and 93.24 in 2001.

Lincoln County's Director of Pupil Personnel Bruce Smith said there are at least two major reasons for the improvement in both dropout and attendance rates - a special school for dropouts and a new vocational school.

"Our Fort Logan High School is an alternative program for students who have dropped out, for whatever reason," said Smith, reporting that 100 students were enrolled in the school last school year, compared with the 1,054 enrolled in the regular high school.

"We offer these kids a self-paced program where they can take the time they need, in an individualized program, to complete their credits and get their diplomas," Smith said.

The new vocational school also has helped to reduce dropouts and boost attendance in the district, he said.

"There are more than a few students who have no intention of going on to college and, so, are not interested in the largely college preparatory academic program at the high school, but who are interested in vocational studies to prepare for later employment in trades and related fields," he said. "Our new vocational school provides these students with an avenue for their interests, skills and talents that they didn't used to have, at least not in this district."

A program that should further bolster efforts to increase attendance and reduce dropouts is the statewide "no pass-no drive" initiative, Smith said.

In contrast to the Lincoln district, the Danville district has recorded some of the area's lowest dropout rates and highest attendance rates. Danville Director of Pupil Personnel Chuck Stallard said there is room for improvement in both areas and the study shows the district has made progress.

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