NH Public Policy
New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies

Now One in Five: An Update on High School Dropouts in New Hampshire

Executive Summary

Date: September 1st, 2006

This paper updates our previous work on dropouts. We present aggregate statistics consistent with our previous work, updated to include three more years of data 2003 – 2005. The results of this analysis are promising, but reporting issues continue to plague the state’s understanding of the true drop out rate.

We can report a significant change in the drop out rate in New Hampshire. Updated figures indicate that between 1999 and 2004 the true dropout rate has been slowly and consistently declining from 25 percent to 20 percent. The Center published reports on the problem of dropouts from the public high schools of New Hampshire in June 2002 and February 2004. Those reports indicated that the true dropout rate was about 25 percent at a time when official figures stated that it was only 15-20 percent. Our reports were instrumental in bringing considerably more attention to this issue on the part of educators, legislators, local education officials, news media, and the public.

Despite this progress, the official record of drop-outs provided by the Department of Education, based on reports submitted by school districts, continues to undercount dropouts by as many as 1,000 students per year. This undercount appears to be still largely attributable to school districts’ inability to track and report accurately students who transfer from one school to another. In 2004/05 1,828 high school students were reported to have transferred to another New Hampshire public high school, yet only 1,061 were reported to have actually entered. Missing and unnoted were 767 students.

Significant steps are being taken to improve the tracking of drop-outs in New Hampshire.

Before the end of 2006 the department’s new database of all public school students will provide more accurate graduate and dropout statistics for the 2005/06 school year. This database, the Initiative for School Empowerment and Excellence (i.4.see), will track individual students as they move from school to school. We recommended creation of this system in our 2004 report and it was authorized by the legislature that year. This system will introduce real-time reporting in the 2006/07 school year, further improving the tracking of students and increasing the chance of quickly recovering some dropouts.

In summary, this paper demonstrates that school districts have undercounted and under-reported their true dropout rates by failing to track students who transfer in and out of their schools. Hundreds of students seemingly disappear between the time they transfer out of one school and into another. This ‘leakage’ in the system has implications for school districts under the No Child Left Behind law, but also for policy makers and local education program designers trying to address the issue of drop-outs in New Hampshire.

Report File