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NEWS RELEASES 2008-09 :: FEBRUARY 5, 2009

Fewer NC Students Dropped Out of School in 2007-08; Annual Dropout Rate Falls Below 5 Percent

North Carolina high schools reported that 4.97 percent of students dropped out of school during the 2007-08 academic year, according to the 2007-08 Dropout Report presented to the State Board of Education today.

This means that 1,116 fewer students across North Carolina decided to drop out in 2007-08 than in the previous year. Overall, 22,434 students out of approximately 450,000 North Carolina high school students dropped out of school in 2007-08.

This marks the first decrease in the state's rate since 2004-05.

The rate in 2006-07 was 5.24 percent with 23,550 students leaving before graduation.

"This is good news for North Carolina. Local schools are using all of the tools available to help students stay in school," said State Superintendent June Atkinson. "The credit for this success goes to local educators for finding ways to re-engage students and to students and their families for recognizing the need to stay in school."

Atkinson noted that decreases in the annual dropout rate should lead to increases over the next few years in the four-year cohort graduation rate – the number of students who graduate from high school four years after entering ninth grade. The four-year graduation rate in 2007-08 was 70.3 percent.

Dropout rates fell in 66 of the state's 115 school districts. The largest three-year decreases in rates were in Hertford, Dare, Jones, Graham and Burke counties.

State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said that a 100 percent graduation rate is the Board's mission for North Carolina. "This is really at the heart of our efforts with Learn and Earn, the NC Virtual Public School, the dropout prevention grants of the General Assembly and our overall focus on the issue of staying in school and graduating."

School superintendents say that a variety of intervention strategies are important in addressing the dropout rate. These include:

  • smaller schools such as Learn and Earn, Early College and Middle College models;
  • the use of course credit recovery systems, including opportunities offered by the NC Virtual Public School;
  • providing ninth grade academies to help new high school students make the transition from middle school to high school;
  • alternative learning programs for students suspended for behavior issues;
  • the driver's license law that revokes student licenses if they drop out before age 18;
  • academic intervention for students with low grades;
  • opportunities for students to make up unexcused absences or suspension absences; and
  • graduation coaches who work with students and families to ensure students are on track.

David Burleson, superintendent of Burke County Schools, said that his school district has made high school graduation a priority. "We realized that the dropout problem was not just a high school issue, but a preK-12 issue. To solve the dropout problem it takes everyone working together: schools, partners, churches and the entire community."

Burke County's strategies include an academy for students who previously dropped out, graduation experts assigned to each high school to work with students who show signs of being potential dropouts, early intervention through 28 preschool classes including mobile pre-K classroom buses that go to young students; and an emphasis on each school system employee developing positive relationships with students to encourage them to stay in school. These strategies have enabled Burke County to move its dropout rate from 6.93 percent to 4.33 percent over the past three years.

Jones County Superintendent Michael Bracy and his staff have also been successful in decreasing their dropout rate from 8.6 percent to 5.21 percent over the past three years. Bracy said that the dropout issue is the top priority of his district and not a problem confined to high schools.

"The single most important thing that will address this issue is the focus on adult-student relationships," Bracy said. "I firmly believe that it is not a matter of teaching harder, it's about reaching these students from where they are and moving them forward. The students don't really care how much we know unless they know how much we care. A new culture of learning is happening in Jones County and I believe we will see great benefits in the long run."

Students report a variety of reasons for dropping out, but attendance is the most-often reported reason (48 percent) and enrollment in a community college program is the second most often reported reason (16 percent). Academic problems are a distant third (7.2 percent).

In North Carolina, students most frequently drop out in ninth or 10th grades. Males accounted for 59.7 percent of dropouts. American Indian, Hispanic and African American students were over-represented in the 2007-08 dropout rates.

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.

North Carolina also collects a four-year cohort graduation rate each year. This rate indicates the percentage of first-time ninth graders who graduated from high school four years later. The complete dropout report and district level numbers are available online at

For more information, please contact the NCDPI's Communications division at 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.