Academic journal article High School Journal

The Relationship of School-to-School Transitions and School Size to High School Dropout Rates

Academic journal article High School Journal

The Relationship of School-to-School Transitions and School Size to High School Dropout Rates

Article excerpt


A large portion of the research on high school dropouts has been concerned with identification of variables associated with at-risk students. This research has generally concluded that socioeconomic status (SES) is a primary contributing factor in high school dropout rates (Rumberger, 1987). Researchers have identified clusters of factors associated with a student's decision to dropout of school such as family background, personal problems and school related problems (Phelan, 1992). Wehlege (1986) emphasized a need to study school-related variables associated with student dropouts in addition to the characteristics of student dropouts.

A second group of studies have been concerned with dropout prevention strategies. Many of these strategies emphasize the development of a caring relationship between students and teachers (Phelan 1992; Reglin 1990). Increasing the level of student participation in school activities has been found to be an effective dropout prevention strategy. Bell (1967) and McNeal (1995) found that participation in highly visible extracurricular activities such as athletics tends to reduce the likelihood that a student will dropout. Large schools tend to have low rates of student activity participation (Huling, 1980; Kleinert 1969). Several researchers have found a tendency for attendance rates to decrease and dropout rates to increase with an increase in school size (Lindsay, 1982; Merritt, 1983; Pittman & Haughwout, 1987).

Wood, et al. (1993) found that changing schools increased the probability that a student would dropout of school. In a study of middle school dropouts, Rumberger (1995) found that policies affecting student transfers will influence a student's decision to stay in school. The transition of students from elementary school to middle school can be compared to a student transfer requiring the adjustment of all students to a new learning environment.

In a previous research project comparing the achievement levels of small rural K-6, 7-12 school districts versus K-8 school districts, the author observed a sharp decline in achievement levels during the transition from elementary to secondary school at seventh grade in the K-6, 7-12 school districts. In a study designed to investigate achievement losses associated with school-to-school transitions Alspaugh and Harting (1995) found a consistent achievement loss in reading, mathematics, science, and social studies for students in transition during grades five, six, seven, and eight. If there is a loss in student achievement associated with school-to-school transitions then is there an increase in high school dropout rates associated with the number and grade levels of these transitions?

Purpose of the Study

The overall goal of the study was to explore the relationship of three district organization variables and high school dropout rates while considering the effects of SES. The district organization variables were (1) number of school-to-school transitions, (2) the grade level of the last transition to high school, and (3) the K-12 enrollment per attendance center. Because SES and school size variables have been identified by other researchers as being related to high school dropout rates the first part of the study was concerned with the two school-to-school transitions variables. The second part of the study was devoted to exploring the relationship among the transition variables, school size and SES, and the combined influence of these variables on high school dropout rates.

Sources of Data for the Research

The sample for the study included 447 Missouri school districts with high schools. The dependent: variable was the five year average dropout rate for each school district for the school years 1990-91 through 1994-95. The annual dropout rate was defined as the number of pupils leaving grades 9 through 12 without a transcript request divided by the September enrollment count for grades 9-12 and expressed as a percent. …

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