In the area of nonacademic data, the best numbers overall among the eight area high schools were recorded by Mercer County High School. Mercer had the lowest dropout rate (1.07 percent), highest graduation rate (93.83 percent) and best transition rate (98.04 percent).
"Our numbers are pretty decent, especially our dropout rate, which looks like it's the best in the area," said Mercer Superintendent Bruce Johnson. "But they're still not as good as I'd like."
Johnson gave credit for the high school's good performance in nonacademic areas to the teachers.
"Our classroom teachers make it known from the first day of classes that it's important for the students to be in the classroom, it's important for them to work hard and it's important for them to graduate," he said. "All these things add up to a better chance at succeeding in life, in getting into a good college and landing a good career."
For the state in the 2002-2003 school year, the report shows a total of 6,082 dropouts in a student population of 182,494 students in grades 9 through 12 - a rate of 3.3 percent. That compared with rates of 3.94 percent the previous year and 4.76 two years before. The rate was 5.1 percent in 1999-2000, a year in which the current method of calculating dropouts was adopted.
Eight districts, mostly small independents, reported no dropouts at all last year from their high schools. They were Augusta, Beechwood, Cloverport, Hazard, Silver Grove, Walton-Verona, Green County and Hancock County.
Union County had highest rate
The highest dropout rate was in Union County, with 77 dropouts in a high school student population of 799 - a rate of 9.64 percent, nearly triple the rate of the previous year.
Superintendent Gerald Novak said the district's dropout figures soared because of the inclusion of Victory High School at the Earle C. Clements Job Corps Center.
Novak said Victory is a second-chance school for students who have already dropped out. Many drop out again and are counted against the district a second time.
"We don't think it's a fair assessment," Novak said in a telephone interview.
"I really do think we're providing an excellent service for these students," he said. But "it seems like we're getting penalized for this. ... I think we have no option but to close the program down."
Dropout rates were again highest among Hispanic and black students - 4.43 percent and 4.35 percent, respectively - though each group improved. It was lowest among Asians - 1.87 percent, down from 2.09 the year before. The rate for white students was 3.21 percent, down from 3.78 percent. Dropout rates by ethnicity were not reported before 1999.
For at least the 11th year in a row, high school freshmen were most likely to be retained in grade. Their retention rate was 10.03 percent, down from 10.81 the previous year but markedly higher than for any other grade. Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit said it was "a major area of concern."
Three high schools reported 100 percent on-time graduation rates - Augusta, Barbourville and Cloverport. The lowest rate was 49.77 percent for Breathitt County High School.
Kentucky began reporting graduation rates in 2001 but does not include them in school and district accountability scores. Federal law does not generally permit inclusion of students who took longer than four years or who received a certificate of completion instead of a diploma.
Information for this story also was gathered by The Associated Press.