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NEWS RELEASES 2005-06 :: MARCH 1, 2006


In the 2004-05 school year, approximately one out of every 20 North Carolina high school students dropped out of school jeopardizing their opportunities for future success, according to the Annual Dropout Event Report presented to the State Board of Education today. This equates to an annual high school dropout rate of 4.7 percent.

More than 20,000 dropout events were recorded in North Carolina in grades nine through 12. Dropout rates and numbers have remained fairly steady over the last several years, but there have been some indications of improvement. While the dropout rates for American Indians, Hispanics and blacks, respectively, were higher than for the overall average for the state, the dropout event rates for all ethnic minority groups declined. The greatest decline in the dropout event rate was for black students, at nearly .4 percent.

One-third of all dropout events occurred during the ninth grade year, and nearly 3 percent of all dropout events in 2004-05 were with students who had dropped out at least once before. Most dropout events occurred among students between the ages of 16 and 19. In North Carolina, the compulsory attendance law requires school attendance between the ages of 7 and 16.

State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said that it is time to change the law. "We do students a disservice to send the message that it is acceptable to drop out of school when they are 16 years old. A high school diploma is a minimum requirement for future success, and we will continue to press for changing the compulsory school attendance age."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said that there are a number of efforts underway to strengthen high school in ways that will help engage students and keep them in school. "Smaller learning communities and courses that students see as relevant to their goals are key elements to helping students stay in school," Atkinson said. "In addition, many students need special support to help them successfully transition from middle school to high school. As the numbers show, ninth grade is a vulnerable year for many young people."

State law requires that school building-level officials record the reason for a student's decision to drop out of school. In 2004-05, 60 percent of the dropout events listed attendance issues as the reason for the student's decision to drop out. Other key issues included enrollment in a community college (10 percent) and "moved, school status unknown" (8 percent). Nearly 5 percent of the dropout events were coded with reasons related to student suspension and incarceration.

Ninety-seven of North Carolina's 359 high schools are involved in Learn and Earn and the New Schools Project, formal efforts to significantly reform high school operations. These efforts, as well as others across the state, are helping students access rigorous curricula, participate in smaller learning communities and receive the support they need to be successful in high school. In addition to these local efforts, the State Board of Education has an Ad Hoc Committee on Rigor, Relevance and Relationships that is studying high school issues. As a result of the committee's work, the Board has strengthened high school exit standards beginning with the ninth grade class entering high school in the fall 2006. The new standards will require that students pass the five core end-of-course tests and successfully complete a graduation project.

Atkinson noted high school reform efforts join other ongoing activities in helping encourage students to remain in school, and that new efforts also are making a difference. Approximately 50 percent of Career Technical Education students, for example, report that CTE courses were a primary reason for their interest in remaining in school.

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:
    • transferred to another public school district, private school, home school or state/district approved educational program,
    • temporarily absent due to suspension or school-approved illness, or
    • death.

The complete dropout report is available at

For more information, please contact NC DPI's Communications division, 919.807.3450.

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.