By Jackie Stone
Killeen Daily Herald
Roughly two of every 100 Texas students in seventh through 12th grade dropped out in the 2008-09 school year, but the total number of dropouts decreased from the previous year, according to state numbers.
The Texas Education Agency released its annual report of statewide dropout trends in secondary schools on Friday, using information from the 2008-09 school year.
The report shows that the overall dropout rate for middle and high schoolers has gradually dropped from 2.6 percent of students in 2005-06, to 2 percent of students in 2008-09.
TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said that improvement also reflects that the total number of graduating students is increasing.
"Is it still too many kids dropping out? Yes. But those numbers are coming down," she said. "We've got more programs in place, and those are working in tangent to keep kids in school."
Dropout and completion rates are used to determine state ratings at each school and district, and are used by some districts to apply for grants.
Cindy Hutcherson, director of federal programs and accountability for Copperas Cove Independent School District, said in addition to its accountability ratings, the district uses the numbers to conduct its own assessments for areas of improvement.
"It's something we use internally very heavily, so we can see how best to improve programs for our kids," she said.
Hutcherson said CCISD was encouraged by improvements in its dropout numbers in the 2008-09 school year.
"All of our groups came up this year, so we are very pleased," she said.
CCISD and Killeen Independent School District both attempted to appeal their TEA ratings last year based on their districts' completion rates.
Hutcherson said CCISD has added a new completion rate and attendance position to the district and added a campus attendance officer and office at Copperas Cove High School to track students better and keep better records. KISD's student completion rates have also increased over the past few years and the district has several programs in place to continue that trend, said Susan Humiston, KISD instructional leader for high school.
"We have spent the majority of the school year really examining our processing and our programs and our response to students who are in danger of dropping out," Humiston said.
Early identification, intervention plans, tutoring and personalized instruction are all ways the district is working to improve completion rates.
Statewide, high school seniors had the highest dropout rate of any grade level at 4.1 percent of students, or roughly 12,600 of 305,000 seniors in 2008-09. High school freshmen had the next highest dropout rate at 2.6 percent.
Culbertson said the ninth-grade year is the target of some dropout prevention programs that the state believes have been working to lower that number.
"What we have to do is really reach out to our struggling freshmen to keep them in school, and on track for graduation," said Humiston.
The district also tried to connect with seniors who don't complete to bring them back as fifth-year seniors.
In other statewide trends, more male high school students dropped out than female students, at roughly 21,000 compared with 17,650.
The lower dropout rate for women held true at all grade levels, except senior year when female dropouts outpaced males at 4.5 percent to 3.8 percent.
The TEA report also breaks out dropout and completion data by ethnic group.
Black students statewide held the highest dropout rate with 8,876 of the 201,176 black students in Texas high schools - a rate of 4.4 percent - while Hispanic high school students had the highest overall number of dropouts with 22,493, but a lower rate at 3.8 percent.
Asian/Pacific Islander students had the lowest dropout rate at 1 percent of the 48,351 total students in Texas high schools.
Humiston said KISD struggles the most with economically disadvantaged students, regardless of the ethnic group.
The statewide dropout rate for economically disadvantaged students outpaced overall numbers, coming in at 2.6 percent of those students.
Students who participated in gifted and talented and career and technical education programs at high schools and middle schools also had a lower dropout rate.
Contact Jackie Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.