Mississippi's graduation/dropout rates fluctuate - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Mississippi's graduation/dropout rates fluctuate

Dr. Tom Burnham (Photo source: MS Dept. of Education) Dr. Tom Burnham (Photo source: MS Dept. of Education)

By Dr. Tom Burnham
State Superintendent of Education

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) – The purpose of education is to help children reach their full potential and give them the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to succeed as adults. Ultimately, we measure success at the K-12 level by the number of students that successfully complete high school. However, there is more than one way to calculate graduation and dropout rates.

Cohort graduation and dropout rates are determined by tracking students from ninth grade year through the next four years. At the end of those four years, a snapshot is taken to determine whether students have graduated, have completed with either a Certificate of Attendance or Occupational Diploma, will be returning the next year to continue school, or have dropped out of school.

The Class of 2009's cohort of 33,645 students is slightly larger than the Class of 2008. The dropout rate for the Class of 2009 is slightly up from the Class of 2008 at 16.8 percent and the graduation rate is slightly down at 71.6 percent. For the Class of 2008, the dropout rate was 16 percent and the graduation rate was 72 percent.

Mississippi has been calculating graduation and dropout rates since 2005 using the guidelines established by the National Governors Association (NGA) Task Force on High School Graduate Rate Data. From 2005 to 2008, Mississippi saw incremental improvement in both the graduation and dropout rates while using the NGA guidelines.

In 2008, the United States Department of Education (USDE) issued guidance outlining its own methodology for calculating both graduation and dropout rates. The USDE guidance for calculating graduation and dropout rates was similar, but not identical, to the NGA guidance.

Two details were significant to Mississippi.

First, the NGA rate allowed self-contained special education students more time to graduate than their non-special education peers. The USDE method does not.

Second, the NGA did not count a student as a dropout if they earned a GED outside of the school district they attended. The USDE requires that students who transfer to an educational program that does not culminate in a high school diploma are considered a dropout.

These factors contributed to Mississippi being bumped slightly off track on its goal of reducing the dropout rate to 13 percent by 2013. However, that goal is still attainable.

There has been a tremendous amount of effort to help students continue on a path to graduation. The "On the Bus" campaign has provided great awareness and momentum for strong community and business involvement in schools. We must keep the momentum going and find new ways to inspire and empower students to stay in school.

Many of our dropout prevention efforts will have long-term benefits rather than produce short-term results. Our focus on early literacy today will be evident when the Class of 2022 graduates. We are also working hard to help students transition into and out off middle school with the skills needed to succeed in high school. We will see the results of these efforts in the Class of 2016.

This year, the Mississippi Legislature passed SB 2389, which will allow school districts to expand their career pathway programs. Students that take advantage of this program will be able to obtain the knowledge and skills needed for a career, so that they are ready to enter the workforce when they graduate in 2014.

There are no quick fixes to dropout prevention. By increasing the rigor or our curriculum and assessment system, we are preparing our students to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

Finally, dropout prevention is not the sole responsibility of teachers and principals. All adults must be engaged in the education of children. Setting high educational expectations and keeping children focused on learning will help more students graduate. This will help each student have a better life and the state grow a more robust economy.

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