One Third Of Urban Students At-Risk For Dropping Out

By Sarah Birnbaum

Nov. 30, 2010

BOSTON — More than one-third of Massachusetts eighth-graders who attended urban schools last academic year are at risk of not earning their high school diplomas, according to state education officials.

The data comes from a new state tracking system designed to identify eighth-graders who are at risk of not graduating. It confirms what what many educators and parents already suspected: That kids in urban public schools are at much greater risk of dropping out than their peers in suburban or rural districts.

The numbers show a full 36 percent of eighth-graders attending urban schools are at risk of not finishing high school. That rate is significantly lower in suburban and rural districts, where only 8 percent of students are at risk of dropping out.

The districts with the highest number of at-risk kids are also the districts with the fewest resources to deal with the problem.


Paul Grogan of the Boston Foundation, a charity that works with the school system, says Massachusetts actually compares favorably with the national urban dropout rate of close to 50 percent. But, he says, the data nevertheless reveals an appalling situation in the commonwealth.

“It’s really a completely unacceptable number because we’re churning out kids who have no shot at the middle class, no shot in terms of a fulfilling life or access to good jobs,” Grogan said.

The state used indicators like test scores, the number of suspensions and attendance records to identify at-risk students.. Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester says research shows these risk factors correlate with higher dropout rates:

“Students who are overage in grade for example, are students who have been held back, and these are students we know who are at greater risk of not making it through to graduation," Chester said. "Students who miss a lot of school – we know this has an impact on their academic standing and is an indication of their disengagement from school.”

The state pulled together data relating to these risk factors and then gave school districts the names of students who are at low risk, medium risk, and high risk of dropping out.

Jennifer Amigone, the director of data analysis for the education non-profit Boston Plan for Excellence, says educators are expected to use the information to help prevent dropouts.

"To name students and to say on day one of the 9th grade year,  you know – this set of students – by name – are at a high likelihood of dropping out – the system really needs to think about how to address that early on."

Education officials hope that schools will assist students with things such as tutoring and mentoring.  But Amigone and other advocates point to a sad paradox: The districts with the highest number of at-risk kids are also the districts with the fewest resources to deal with the problem.

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