Board Initiates Program to Help Cut Dropout Rate

Reprinted from The Star Democrat, EastonMaryland November 13, 2003


Board Initiates Program to Help Cut Dropout Rate By: Vickie Fisher, Staff Writer

Denton- The Caroline County Board of Education has initiated a new program to help decrease the student dropout rate that already has proven successful.

Mary Anne Adkins, coordinator of pupil services, presented the Dropout Prevention Initiative (DPI) to the school board at their November meeting.  DPI is used in place of Maryland’s tomorrow program, which was the state’s primary dropout prevention strategy that targeted a small number of students based on dropout risk factors.

The county’s dropout rate was at its highest in the 1996 school year at over 6 percent, fell to a little more than 4 percent in 1999, and increased to 6 percent the following year, said Adkins.

“If our program was being effective, we would expect to see a decline, but we aren’t seeing that,” said Adkins of the Maryland’s Tomorrow Program.  She said the program may have failed because risk factors are a poor predictor of why students are dropping out.  When you target a group of students based on risk factors, Adkins said, you serve students who don’t need the program, miss students who do need it and only a small number of students are ultimately served.

Dropping out of school is not an event but a process, said Adkins, with three components being participation, school performance and identification with the school.  She said if students attend school, go to class, complete assignments and participate in extracurricular activities, this leads to students passing their classes.  This then leads to students feeling a sense of belonging in the school, sharing common values with other students and teachers and then they see that their education is relevant, said Adkins.  On the other hand, she said students at risk for dropping out are showing signs of disengaging from school (not attending, not completing assignments, failing classes and getting suspended.)

After the pupil services reviewed the attendance and grades of students from the 2001/2002 school year, the majority of students demonstrated that process of dropping out, said Adkins.

“Kids dropped out in high school who had been B and C students in middle school,” she said.

Pupil services then decided to intervene at the beginning of the process to decrease absenteeism before it became chronic.  The goals of DPI, said Adkins, were to decrease the dropout rate, increase attendance, improve pupil services’ response to attendance problems and raise awareness of the link between achievement and attendance.  She said they first targeted the students who already were beginning to withdraw from school.

According to pupil services’ statistics, the yearly attendance rate for elementary schools in the 2003 school year was 95 percent (96 percent is the excellent level).  Middle school attendance was at around 94 percent and high schools were attended by around 92 percent of the students.  Twenty-nine percent of elementary students were absent five days or less in the 2003 school year with 26 percent of middle schoolers and 21 percent of high schoolers absent five days or less.  The rate of students absent more than 20 days in the 2003 school year was around 18 percent for high school, 13 percent for middle school and only 7 percent for elementary school students.

“More kids are missing more days and fewer kids are missing fewer days,” Adkins said.

In order to change these statistics through the DPI program, pupil services intervened with students with known attendance problems, created incentive programs to encourage better attendance and increased awareness to highlight the link between attendance and school success using existing staff and resources, she said.

“We wanted to make sure the parents were aware of the problem,” said Adkins.  She said pupil services began contacting parents each time their student was absent so that they could identify the reason for the absence, refer parents to the proper remedy and ensure that school services were used to fix the problem.  Adkins said they want to educate parents of the importance of state attendance laws as well as send a message that the school is concerned about students and is monitoring absences.

One example of the DPI program in action was when pupil services worked with the parents of an elementary student who had problems getting up in the morning.  The family was given a morning schedule and this year the student has only missed three days of school.  Schools are now offering incentives like ice cream parties and movie nights for students with perfect attendance each quarter.  Adkins said they gave away 700 to 800 Subway children’s meals last quarter.

Of the 491 students in the DPI caseload, 70 percent had fewer absences in the 2002-2003 school year than the previous year; 46 percent had fewer than 20 absences, 1 percent remained unchanged and 29 percent had increased absences.  According to Adkins’ statistics, the dropout rate was nearly 5.5 percent in 2002 and was down to around 4.3 percent in the 2003 school year.

Although the program has shown its effectiveness, “we have to come back and address this issue,” said Superintendent Edward Shirley.