What Do the School Careers of Dropouts and Graduates Look Like?
This chapter will focus on three questions. To what extent do dropouts and graduates in the Fall River cohort differ in terms of their early school performance? What do trends in the grades, attendance, and incidence of grade retention tell us about the path or paths to dropping out? And, how well could we have predicted a youth's later school outcomes on the basis of a pupil's fourth-grade characteristics?
The educational attainment of youths in the Fall River cohort reflected a continuum of outcomes. Some students in this cohort dropped out as early as the seventh grade. Others stayed in school until twelfth grade, but still did not graduate. Some graduates would go on to college, while others ended formal education with their high school diploma. Comparing all dropouts to all graduates may mask important differences in these students' school careers, differences that may hold keys to the determinants of school dropout. The Fall River data set does not contain information on post-high school educational participation. We can, however, examine differences in the school performance of graduates by their graduating class rank. In this chapter, I will discuss trends in the school performance of early grade dropouts (seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade dropouts); late grade dropouts (tenth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-grade dropouts); the bottom third of the graduating class; and the middle and top thirds of the graduating class.1 These groups differ in terms of both their average characteristics as of the fourth grade and in their school experiences after the fourth grade.
The first section of this chapter compares the grades and attendance of these different groups of youths in the fourth grade. I then trace the school career paths of students by grade of dropout and graduating class