Gradual Disengagement: A Portrait of the 2008-09 Dropouts in the Baltimore City Schools examined eight years of student-level data to paint a collective portrait of the process of disengagement that leads to student dropout.
The study found that the majority of students who eventually drop out of Baltimore high schools enter ninth grade with a pattern of chronic absenteeism that goes back at least several years. A large majority of eventual dropouts are overage for grade by the time they enter ninth grade for the first time, and have increasingly high levels of absenteeism and course failure over their years in high school. The study recommends that interventions be implemented during the early middle grades to prevent most dropout outcomes, and that non-traditional credit-earning options be offered to older enrolled students (17 and older) who already have patterns of chronic absenteeism and course failure.
This report’s analyses suggest the following:
- A large majority of eventual dropouts are overage for grade by the time they enter ninth grade for the first time. Grade retention patterns within the district (possibly influenced by accountability pressures related to test scores in the elementary and middle grades) could be contributing to the dropout problem and should be examined closely. It is important for alternatives to grade retention to be implemented to prevent the large numbers of overage students in middle and high schools.
- A majority of students who eventually drop out of high school enter ninth grade with a pattern of chronic absenteeism that goes back at least several years. These students require significant interventions to change longstanding habits of poor attendance.
- Significant interventions during the early middle grades are required to prevent most dropout outcomes. Prior research has shown that entrenched patterns for those entering ninth grade are extremely difficult to change.
- Most dropouts need to earn more than ten additional course credits to qualify for a high school diploma. Prior research has indicated that overage and under-credited students are unlikely to be successful in the regular high school setting.
- For current high school students aged 17 and older who have already become entrenched in patterns of chronic absenteeism and course failure and have not succeeded in earning many high school course credits, it appears that more non-traditional options for earning a high school diploma would be helpful.
- On the other hand, it is important not to track unsuccessful middle grades students into such alternative high school options. A more intensive focus on intervention and preventative measures during the middle grades is one of the most crucial directions for district efforts in reducing the dropout rate. Alternative high school options should be a short-term strategy that can be eliminated over time as the factors producing the need for them are addressed.
Download the full report, available here in pdf.