Thursday, May 16, 2013

Drop Out Rates Can Be Deceiving

dropoutIn Diplomas Elusive for Many Students With Learning Disabilities from On Special Education - Education Week, Christina Samuel shares,

For the 2010-2-11 year, “Nationwide, the dropout rate for SLDs was 19 percent. But 22 states had dropout rates higher than the national average; South Carolina, at 49 percent, had the highest dropout rate.”

I was not shocked to see that my state had a high percentage of drop outs but it may be because I know what they include in the drop out category. As in many statistics, numbers can tell just about anything but if you are comparing apples to oranges, the numbers are meaningless. Unless all of the states calculate drop outs with the same criteria, these numbers don’t show anything and makes South Carolina look worse than it is. I’m not saying that our dropout rate is bad, but I am saying that it may not be as bad as it is portrayed.

I know that I taught self contained students who earned an occupational diploma from my district. Since this diploma is not recognized by the state, it is actually listed as an attendance certificate. Also, because my students were not required to pass some kind of exit exam and didn’t receive a state diploma, they are classified as drop outs. They are considered drop outs even though they have completed twelve or more years of school!

I feel this label really does a disservice to my students. It is demeaning and really minimizes all the hard work they put into towards completing a public school education. Many of my students were very bright but learned differently than students in general education classes. In fact, I helped many earn a GED after they finished public school. Some of my students may have had behavior issues (which may have been worse because of the frustration with learning) and put into a self contained class because a general education teacher could not handle them. Some students were slower learners and rather than getting accommodations in a general education class, they were dumped in my class. Even if I found out after a year that they were wrongly placed, they would have had to repeat that year over in order to earn Carnegie units from a general education class and many were too discouraged then to try.

In order to get an occupational diploma, my students had to work in an unpaid internship in 11th grade and then get at least 360 continuous paid employment hours in their 12th grade year in order to graduate. This means they could not get fired or quit or they had to accumulate hours all over again. We didn’t just teach them how to get a job but how to keep one also.

When I would go out to their place of employment, many employers would tell me how conscientious my students were and that they were more dependable than some of their other employees. I think it is because my students realized they already had a strike against them (their disability) and had to work harder than anyone else so it couldn’t be used against them.

I had a student with autism who completely organized a doctor’s office medical records. He was steady and a hard worker and didn’t seem to get distracted from his goal. This office raved about him so much they offered him a permanent job after graduation. I had another student who started working as a bag boy with Publix and eventually earned promotions each year that when I saw him years after graduation, he is a department manager and has stock options in the company.

I could go on and on about different students’ successes but it amazes me that students like this are listed as drop outs. I wonder if we followed the ones who have graduated, how many of them have full time jobs? Do graduation rates really predict success rates? I’m not sure. It sure seems like most of my students who are considered “drop outs” are pretty successful after graduation.

I really think statistics can be deceiving if we aren’t comparing numbers that use the same criteria rather than just having the same label.

What do you think? Please share.

Image: 'boys and dropout rates'
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