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Washington County dropout rates rise

November 10, 1997

Washington County dropout rates rise

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

The dropout rate in Washington County high schools hit its highest point in more than a decade last year when a little more than 5 percent of the district's students left school, according to statistics.

Of the 4,951 students enrolled in grades 9 through 12, about 253 dropped out, according to school records.

"We can't tolerate that many dropouts. That makes too many kids going out in the world of work without an education," said Robert L. Kline, vice president of the Washington County Board of Education.

School officials said they did not know why the dropout rate went up, but plan to hold roundtable discussions in the coming weeks in an effort to find an answer, said Jan Keefer, the school board's supervisor of research.

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Kline said the school board will hold a retreat on Friday to discuss the dropout rate and other issues.

Last year's dropout rate, the most recent available, was 5.1 percent. The last time the rate was close to that level was in the 1988-89 school year, when it was 5 percent, according to school records.

In the preceding two school years, the dropout rate was between 4.6 percent and 4.7 percent, according to records.

Between 1990 and 1994 it hovered between 3.3 percent and 3.9 percent.

The Maryland State Performance Assessment Program considers 3 percent satisfactory and 1.25 percent excellent.

Among the seven high schools and the Career Studies Center, South Hagerstown had the highest dropout rate, and Williamsport the lowest.

Following are the dropout rates for each school, according to records:

-- Williamsport, 2.1 percent

-- Boonsboro, 2.2 percent

-- Hancock, 2.2 percent

-- Smithsburg, 2.2 percent

-- Clear Spring, 3.1 percent

-- North Hagerstown, 3.9 percent

-- Career Studies Center 4 percent,

-- South Hagerstown, 7.2 percent

Clear Spring High School Principal John Peckyno said it has been his experience that by the time students arrive at high school, they already have decided whether they will drop out.

The reasons can vary, ranging from an unexpected pregnancy, to lack of interest in subjects, to rejection of school authority, Peckyno said.

"There's so many factors that play into a student's reason to leave school," said Roger Giles, vice principal of Williamsport High School.

Giles said it often is related to how successful students are in the classroom. If they are not successful in school, they move onto something else, said Giles.

Williamsport has switched to a four-period day, and Giles said he believes that has boosted student performance.

Compared to the seven-period day, which most high schools use, the four-period day allows students more time to concentrate and there is less "set-up and clean-up time" to interrupt their concentration, said Giles.

There has been a steady increase in the school's honor roll since the four-period day started, and the attendance rate is 96 percent, which is excellent by state standards, Giles said.

Officials note that some of the students come from single-parent homes, where the emphasis may be on earning money rather than on going to school.

Among the statistics:

-- 42 percent of the dropouts lived in single-parent homes.

-- 23 percent lived with natural parents.

-- 14 percent of high school black population dropped out.

-- 81 percent of dropouts left school by the end of the 11th grade.

-- 37 percent failed courses in middle school, and 58 percent failed courses in high school.

-- 97 percent had a cumulative grade point average of less than 2.5.

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