Students who drop out of school have posed a concern for educators since the origins of compulsory public education. Although the relative influence of different reasons is debated, the reasons themselves why students fail to complete high school seem relatively well understood according to a growing body of literature (Battin-Pearson, Newcomb, & Abbott, 2000; Gamier, Stein, & Jacobs, 1997). At the individual level, causes may include a history of poor academic achievement, especially if resulting in grade retention (Jimerson, Anderson, & Whipple, 2002), the influence of antisocial peers, and general deviance (Battin-Pearson et al.). Family-level risk factors appear to include stress, low socioeconomic status, and a non-conventional lifestyle (e.g., acceptance of the use of illicit drugs).
The proportion of students who drop out of school varies quite widely across different groups of students. The National Center for Education Statistics (1999) collects data on dropout rates, and their national data show that dropouts on average are (a) more likely to be of low socioeconomic status--students from the bottom fifth in family income were 6 times more likely to drop out than students in the top fifth--and (b) more likely to be male than female (58% vs. 42%). Dropout rates are higher among Black and Hispanic youth and lower among Asians, in comparison to the rate among White students, although numerically more than half of dropouts are White due to the larger overall number of students who are White. The NCES figures also break down dropout rates by state, showing for example that the statewide event dropout rate for North Carolina in 2000 to 2001 was 6.3%.
Complicating matters, there are several different ways that dropout rates may be calculated (Woods, 1995). The event rate counts students who leave high school each year, in comparison with previous years. Event rate dropout statistics may count the same student multiple times over different years. The status rate is a cumulative rate that is higher than the event rate, as it gives the proportion of all individuals in the population who had not completed or were not enrolled in high school at a given point in time. Status rates might include as dropouts some adults who never attended high school, or who immigrated as adults, as well as students who dropped out of private schools. Neither of these categories would be included in other types of commonly reported dropout rates.
Cohort rates describe the number of dropouts from a single age or grade (cohort) of students over a set period of time. Cohort rates may be thought of as a combination of event rates collected across 2 or more years. Finally, the high-school completion rate indicates the percentage of all individuals of a particular age range (e.g., ages 21 and 22) who have received a high-school diploma or equivalency certificate. Although clearly related, each of these counting methods is likely to produce a unique estimate of the number or proportion of students who have dropped out.
Within the general population, academic performance appears to be one of the stronger predictors associated with dropout decisions, even when there are many years between the achievement measure and the dropout decision. For example, Gamier and colleagues found that low academic performance in sixth grade was associated with a higher risk of dropping out of high school (Gamier et al., 1997), and Jimerson and colleagues (Jimerson, Egeland, Sroufe, & Carlson, 2000) found that academic achievement measured as early as the third grade was a significant predictor of high-school dropout status. Although these findings imply that high-achieving students would have a low dropout rate, researchers generally have focused on students at the middle and lower positions on the achievement distribution. Therefore, it remains unclear how this relationship might apply within an academically gifted …