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NEWS RELEASES 2004-05 :: FEBRUARY 2, 2005


"Every student who drops out of school represents lost potential for the student, for his or her family, for the community and for the state," said State Superintendent Patricia Willoughby. "It is vitally important for all students to earn high school diplomas and to be well prepared for adulthood."

North Carolina's annual high school dropout rate was released today for the 2003-04 school year, showing that 3.29 percent of students in grades 7-12 and 4.86 percent in grades 9-12 dropped out of school in that year.

These rates represent slight increases over the data for 2002-03 when the dropout rate was 3.23 percent for grades 7-12 and 4.78 percent for grades 9-12. The overall trendline since 1988-89 has been positive with a smaller percentage of students dropping out over time. In 1988-89, the first year of an actual counted dropout rate rather than an estimated one, the rate was 4.85 percent for grades 7-12 and 6.66 percent for grades 9-12.

The 2003-04 dropout rates represent 20,817 instances of students' dropping out in grades 7-12. The number for grades 9-12 was 20,035.

State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said that Board concerns about the dropout rate, even in years when the rate declined, were a driving force behind its recent work to reinvent high schools.

"Thanks to Gov. Easley's leadership, North Carolina is leading the country in reforming high schools so that students have a relevant education that gives them the tools they need for the higher paying, skilled jobs of the new economy," stated Lee. "We are committed to high academic standards and will never go down the easy road of social promotion. We will make sure that every child is ready to learn and that every child will one day be ready to earn."

Through the Governor's leadership, the State Board and Department of Public Instruction are involved in a variety of efforts in this area. The New Schools Project, which launched an action plan for high school innovation at two statewide meetings in December, is a public-private partnership funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of this effort is to support "new" high schools with smaller, more focused and more personable learning environments. The New Schools Project is projected to support as many as 50 high schools.

Learn and Earn, an effort announced in 2004 by Gov. Mike Easley, focuses on high schools that partner with community colleges and public and private colleges or universities to provide college experiences and credit to high school students.

The State Board of Education formed an Ad Hoc Committee on Rigor, Relevance and Relationships in 2004 to study high school issues, including ways to enhance the rigor of learning and the relevance of the curriculum. As part of this work, the Board has approved a framework for new high school exit standards that includes a senior project and requirements that students pass end-of-course tests in core high school subjects.

"We are doing more to make sure students value their education and to make sure that their education has value outside of the classroom," concluded Willoughby.

For the second year in a row, the Board has expressed interest in seeking legislation that would raise the compulsory attendance age to 17. Board members feel age 16 is too young for a student to make the critical decision to drop out of 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.

North Carolina's Compulsory Attendance Law requires every child between the ages of 7 and 16 to attend school.

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Local Dropout Data Report (pdf, 133mb)

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.