Pre-Katrina, New Orleans had one of the worst dropout rates in Louisiana, and Louisiana had one of the worst dropout rates in the nation.
Educate Now! was curious to know how New Orleans is doing today. We hadn’t seen any dropout data for New Orleans since Katrina, so we contacted the Louisiana Department of Education and got the 2008-09 dropout numbers for every school in Orleans parish. The 2008-09 data is the most recent year available because dropout reporting lags a year. (The 2009-10 data will be released next spring.)
The Good News: We are better in 2008-09 than we were in 2004-05.
The Bad News: We are still above the state average and have a lot of room for improvement.
What is the annual dropout rate?
Schools and/or school districts give every student an exit code when they leave a school (graduated, transferred to another school, incarcerated, deceased, etc.). The Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) compares all students who were enrolled in school as of October 1 in one year and are NOT enrolled as of October 1 the following year. Any student no longer enrolled who does not have a valid exit code is considered a dropout. Some of these students might re-enroll at a later date, so the annual dropout rate may overstate the dropout problem.
Variations in reporting
While the data across grades is very reliable, there are inconsistencies in assigning a student who has dropped out to a particular grade. For example, if a student is enrolled on October 1 as an 8th grader but not enrolled the following year, depending upon the circumstances, the school or district might report them as an 8th grade dropout or as a 9th grade dropout.
What does the data tell us?
1. The dropout rate for grades 9-12 is down significantly (down 27%) from pre-Katrina. It has gone from 11.4% to 8.3%. (The state is 6.3%.) This data refutes critics who allege that gains in high school performance are because many more students are dropping out and are not there to take the tests. In fact, once a student enrolls in high school, they are much more likely today to stay in school and graduate than they were pre-Katrina.
2. The biggest gains are in 12th grade where we have cut the dropout rate in half – from 16.8% to 8%. What is a 12th grade dropout? It is either a student who was enrolled in 11th grade but was not enrolled anywhere in 12th grade, or a senior who did not graduate (either on time or later) and did not re-enroll in the following two years. This improvement in the dropout rate is consistent with the previously reported gains in the senior graduation rate.
3. While high school performance has improved, the dropout rates for grades 7 and 8 are worse, increasing from 4.6% to 6.1% citywide, with RSD direct-run schools reporting an incredibly high annual dropout rate of 9.6%. (The state average is 2.2%.)
This increase is alarming and needs to be addressed. Educate Now! does not know whether the high 7th and 8th grade dropout rate is partly due to data being reporting differently (8th grade dropout is up; 9th grade is down) and/or to poor data reporting on the part of schools. (If a school or district does not enter the state exit code correctly, then the state assumes the student is a dropout). Irrespective of possible data errors, schools need to immediately focus on this issue and take action to remedy the problem.
4. There is a lot of room for improvement. Despite a reduction in our annual dropout rate, we are losing too many New Orleans students. We must do more to keep our students in school and ensure that they receive high school diplomas.
Educate Now! recommends the following action steps:
1. Acknowledge the problem. This issue has not received the needed attention and focus thus far.
2. Use the school level data to determine which schools have a problem and develop and implement an action plan.
- For a charter school, its board should ask the school leader to assess the issue and make recommendations. Since most of the charters are K-8’s, helping all 8th graders successfully chose a high school and manage that transition will be important. Moreover, the board should include this indicator in evaluating the school’s performance.
- For the RSD direct run schools, the RSD administration needs to take action.
3. Schools should make certain they check the 2009-10 dropout report that LDE sends for every school and verify that they have the correct exit codes for students and the documentation to support that exit code. (For example, if a student has transferred schools, the school or district should have some back up as to where the student went, the request for transcripts, etc.)