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NEWS RELEASES 2003-04 :: FEBRUARY 5, 2004


North Carolina's dropout rate continued to decrease for the fourth consecutive year, according to the 2002-03 Dropout Data Report released today. The annual rate for students in grades 7-12 was 3.23 percent - down from 3.52 percent the previous year. The rate for students in grades 9-12 was 4.78 percent - down from 5.25 percent the previous year.

The 2002-03 rates represent 19,834 dropout events, or total number of students who drop out in a given year, for students in grades 7-12. For grades 9-12, there were 18,964 dropout events. These numbers may include duplications. For example, if a student drops out in two different school years, he/she is counted as a dropout in each of the years.

There is frequent confusion over the annual dropout rate versus the graduation rate. The annual dropout rate reported today accounts for the students who leave school in a specific year's time. This is different from the graduation statistics that would be derived from following one group of ninth graders throughout all four years of high school to determine how many of them graduated in four years, how many dropped out and how many will take longer than four years to graduate. The annual dropout rate, if multiplied by four, would show that approximately 20 percent of ninth graders drop out of school.

The current national estimate of North Carolina's four-year graduation rate, for which no precise count yet exists, is approximately 63 percent. An additional percentage of students graduate, but take longer than four years. The graduation status of other students not accounted for in the dropout rate is often unknown – these are students who move out of the state or out of the country.

The Department of Public Instruction is implementing a tracking system that requires local school districts to track students entering the ninth grade through their scheduled year of graduation. This new program, implemented in response to No Child Left Behind requirements, is expected to yield data beginning in 2005-06 that will more accurately portray how many students graduate.

State Board Chairman Howard Lee noted that although the dropout rate is declining, minorities continue to be over-represented in the state's dropout rate. “Too many of our American Indian, African American and Hispanic students are choosing to forego their high school diploma,” Lee said. “It is imperative that educators, parents and the community come together and find ways to provide interventions that will help these students be successful in school and complete the requirements to earn a high school diploma.” Among ethnic/racial groups, American Indian students are the most likely ethnic group to drop out of school, followed by Hispanic students then black students.

State Superintendent Mike Ward credited the state's student accountability standards and ABCs accountability model for the continued decline in the dropout rate but said it will take many strategies to improve schools' and communities' effectiveness and ensure that more students graduate. “Graduation is one of the most fundamental measures of our effectiveness. Efforts such as the New Schools Project, supported by the Gates Foundation, will help strengthen high schools. But we also need to strengthen our standards and pursue better data collection mechanisms if we ultimately are to eliminate the dropout problem.”

Dropout data have been collected each year since 1988-89, although specific reporting methods changed in 1991 to conform to new federal guidelines and in 1999 because of changes in the state's definition of a dropout.

For the annual dropout rate calculation, a dropout is defined as a student who:

  • was enrolled in school at some time during the previous school year, which is the reporting year;
  • was not enrolled on Day 20 of the current school year;
  • has not graduated from high school or completed a state or district approved educational program; and does not meet any of the following reporting exclusions:
    1. transferred to another public school district, private school, home school or state/district approved educational program,
    2. temporarily absent due to suspension or to school-approved illness, or
    3. death.

North Carolina's Compulsory Attendance Law requires every child between the ages of 7 and 16 to attend school. Students who leave school prior to graduating and enroll in a community college or GED program are counted as dropouts. Statistically, males account for almost 60 percent of the students who drop out of school. The ninth grade is the year when most students are likely to drop out of school.

Students who drop out of school do so for a variety of reasons, including attendance problems, academic problems and choosing to enroll in a community college program rather than a traditional high school program. Usually, however, for students choosing to drop out of school, there are many factors that play into their decision.

For additional information, please contact Charlotte Hughes (919.807.3949), Gladys Logan (919.807.3952), or Celeste Turner (919.807.3951), Effective Practices Section of the Division of School Improvement, NC DPI. The 2002-03 Dropout Data Report is available online at

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.