Eagle County dropout rates on the rise since 2005 | VailDaily.com

Eagle County dropout rates on the rise since 2005

Lauren Glendenning
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Eagle County schools have seen an increase in dropout rates since 2005, but local demographics can inflate those numbers and misrepresent what’s going on, officials say.

Since Eagle County schools have a high “mobility” rate, meaning that students are moving in and out of schools a lot, students are sometimes calculated as dropouts when they might have transferred to another school. If the new school never sends a request for the student’s records, the school has to consider the student a dropout, said Mike Gass, executive director of secondary education, at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting in Eagle.

School board members and local educators talked about ways the district’s school can keep dropouts low and graduations high.

“Districts that have high mobility are impacted higher because of all the things you have to document,” he said. “Sometimes families move quicker than the records do through the system.”

A student who leaves school without transferring or graduating is a dropout by Colorado definition.

Between 2004 and 2005, dropouts in the district doubled from 42 to 84. A 2005 provision in a state law requiring stricter standards on how schools document transfer students had a big impact on the district’s dropout rates, officials say.

The law change in 2005 makes it harder for the schools to distinguish transfers from dropouts, so the dropout rate is only as accurate as the district’s data, Gass said. The new law provision can increase dropout rates because many students who would have counted as transfers before 2005 are now counting as dropouts.

“A lot of our high school (dropout) factor, I believe, is just not knowing where these kids are,” he said.

The school district doesn’t take dropout and graduation rates lightly. Mark Strakbein, principal at Eagle Valley High School, told the school board that the rates are the top priority at his school. Eagle Valley High School has a lower dropout rate and a higher graduation rate than Battle Mountain High School, the district as a whole and the state.

Strakbein points toward a simple philosophy that includes common beliefs, a committed staff, student involvement and interventions for students as the reason the school does better than the state average on these rates.

Strakbein and Eric Mandeville, Eagle Valley High’s assistant principal, are big on instilling certain facts in both teachers’ and students’ minds in order to keep those numbers where they want them.

Students need to have a voice in school, Strakbein said. They want to be missed when they’re not there, which is why Eagle Valley High teachers will ask their classes where an absent student is and what he or she is doing that day.

When talking to Hispanic students, who statistically have higher dropout rates in the county than non-Hispanics, the school asks them if they’ll be in the 50 percent that graduates or the 50 percent that doesn’t.

“We put it right at them,” Strakbein said.

Students who are involved in school do a lot better, too, Mandeville said. Keeping students engaged, be it through academic clubs, after-school activities or sports, keeps them in school, he said.

Strakbein says dropouts are unacceptable, especially because high school is no longer the final step in education as it once was.

“We are the middle step,” he said. “Our definition for success is for them to get the high school diploma and set them up to achieve their next goal.”

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