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Dropout rate down in county

August 27, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Public Schools' high school dropout rate for the 2002-03 school year was less than 3 percent, the lowest it has been in 10 years.

It also was the first time the school system has met the state's satisfactory standard in the 10 years since the state began tracking the rate, a schools official said Tuesday.

The Maryland State Department of Education Web site posting of the 2003 Maryland School Report Card lists Washington County Public Schools' dropout rate for the last school year at 2.19 percent. The state satisfactory standard is 3 percent or less.

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The state average dropout rate was 3.41 percent.

"It's been a goal of ours to achieve the satisfactory level. This is one that's eluded us for a while," said Boyd Michael III, the school system's executive director of secondary education.

Michael said that during the 2002-03 school year, 141 out of 6,443 high school students dropped out. The previous school year, 191 out of 6,316 high school students dropped out.

Bob Brown, the school system's coordinator of testing and accountability, said the 2.19 percent rate places Washington County in sixth place among the 24 school districts in the state.

For the 1999-2000 school year, Washington County's dropout rate was 5.55 percent, which placed the school system in 21st place among the state's 24 school districts.

Michael said there is "no one thing" that helped the school system lower the dropout level, but said it helped that the school system refocused its attention on students who showed warning signs that they might drop out of school.

Michael said high school dropout prevention programs such as Maryland's Tomorrow, Evening High School, the Twilight Program and improvements that were made to the school system's alternative learning school, Antietam Academy, helped keep kids in class.

"It is a direct result of a lot of the programs we put in place. A direct result is we kept kids in schools," Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Michael said the school system will continue to try to identify students at risk of dropping out, seek alternative means of guiding those students and train staff in how to best help those students.

Michael said the school system's graduation rate has risen above the state satisfactory level of 81 percent and believes it will continue to rise. He said the graduation rate is at about 85 percent now.

Brown said high school attendance is at an all-time high and both middle and high school attendance rates in Washington County rank first in the state. He said the county's elementary school attendance rates rank third in the state.

The attendance rate for the 2002-2003 school year in county elementary schools is 96.2 percent, the middle school attendance rate is 95.7 and the high school attendance rate is 95.3 percent. The state satisfactory rate for attendance is 94 percent, according to the Maryland State Department of Education's Web site.

The state Department of Education does not rank school systems on its annual report card, but school systems typically calculate the state results to figure out where they place, Michael said.

He said that the U. S. Department of Education, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, this year required states to release their report cards to school systems before the start of the school year.

The federal act is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and to make sure all students are academically proficient.

Michael said that in the past, the report card, which includes standardized test scores, attendance, graduation and dropout rates, was released in November.

Report cards are to be released in June next year so school systems have the summer to design or revise programs to meet the students' needs, he said.

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