Drawinq Dropouts out of the Shadows: A Standards-Based Curriculum Has Not Been Enough to Ensure the Education of the Staggering Number of Students Who Disappear from the Educational System

Article excerpt

Every year a staggering number of students disappear from the educational system. Drawing these students out of the shadows with accurate data and effective interventions is the first step to keeping them in school through to their graduation.

Tracking the 30 percent of students who drop out

Most educators are using test data and standards-based curriculum and instruction to close the achievement gap. Disappointingly, standards-based curriculum and instruction has not been enough to ensure the education of 30 percent of our youth with persistent school attendance problems.

Recent reports from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the Educational Testing Service, the Harvard Civil Rights Project and Education Trust have estimated that about a third of our students have such severe school attendance problems that they end up leaving school entirely before graduation. The National Center for Educational Statistics has released its estimate of California's graduation rate for 2002-03 at 74.1 percent, slightly above the dismal U.S. average of 73.9 percent.

For the sake of California's significant population of dropouts, it is essential that schools be conscientious about tracking student attendance and using this data for early intervention. School districts that have not already submitted their Annual Statewide Student Identifier Enrollment update to the California School Information Services should do so as soon as possible, since this year's enrollment update establishes the baseline for accurate dropout and graduation rates.

Efforts to ensure students receive the assistance they need to stay in school are the only remedy for them to regain access to the standards and learning. Success in achieving standards with students who attend regularly doesn't compensate for those who disappear from the school before earning a diploma.

State laws and the process for intervention

The problem of students accumulating absences until they stop attending school entirely is not new. In the mid-1970s, California's Legislature was alerted to the dangerously high percentage of dropouts and enacted legislation to require local boards of education to appoint a "supervisor of attendance and such assistant supervisors of attendance as may be necessary to supervise the attendance of pupils in the district or county" (Education Code Section 48240).

The law went further and mandated that school boards would prescribe the "duties" of the supervisor of attendance to include specific responsibilities and methods for how to keep these low-attending students in school. Legislation also created School Attendance Review Boards. SARB panels of school and community experts were designed to meet with persistently absent students or students with persistent behavior problems and their families. The charge was to develop individual solutions for students using school and community resources.

Despite California's staggering number of dropouts, many school districts have yet to begin an effective SARB program. Thirty percent of our children continue to disappear into the shadows.

In State Superintendent Jack O'Connell's February 2005 Highlights communication to superintendents, he reminded counties and districts of the urgent responsibility to keep track of these students, saying, "Just as decisions about instruction must be driven by data, so must decisions about dropout interventions."

By collecting accurate information on the number of SARB referrals and interventions pursuant to Education Code Section 48273, counties such as San Diego and San Bernardino have the data they need to develop strategies for meeting the special needs of students who are at risk of dropping out.

Also, as more and more districts in each county submit their enrollment updates to CSIS, dropout prevention programs will be able to track individual students from grade to grade and school to school. …