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Numbers and Rates of Public High School Dropouts: School Year 200405
NCES 2008-305
December 2007

Appendix A: Methodology and Technical Notes

Common Core of Data survey system. The State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education, the Local Education Agency Universe Survey, and the Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey are the nonfiscal components of the Common Core of Data (CCD) survey system, while the School District Finance Survey and the National Public Education Financial Survey are the fiscal components. These surveys are reported annually by state education agencies (SEAs) through the efforts of state CCD coordinators. Participation in the CCD is voluntary.

Data for CCD surveys are collected from SEAs through an online reporting system. The data are then processed, edited, and verified by the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and the Education Statistics Services Institute (ESSI) of the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

Common Core of Data dropout data files. NCES publishes dropout data on the local education agency level in the Local Education Agency-Level Public-Use Data File on Public School Dropouts and the NCES Common Core of Data Local Education Agency Universe Survey Dropout and Completion Restricted-Use Data File. Data on the state education agency level are published in the State-Level Public-Use Data File on Public School Dropouts. State-level data are created by aggregating local education agency level data to the state level.

Dropout data for a particular year are reported in the Local Education Agency Universe Survey for the following year. For example, 2004–05 dropout and high school completer data are reported in the 2005–06 Local Education Agency Universe Survey. Calculating the dropout rate requires CCD files from these 2 years, with the number of dropouts reported in the 2005–06 agency file divided by the enrollment reported in the 2004–05 Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey.

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Definition of a dropout. The CCD provides an event dropout number. An event dropout number represents the proportion of students dropping out each year. According to the CCD definition, a dropout is an individual who

  • was enrolled in school at some time during the previous school year;
  • was not enrolled at the beginning of the current school year;
  • has not graduated from high school or completed a state- or district-approved education program; and
  • does not meet any of the following exclusionary conditions: transfer to another public school district, private school, or state- or district-approved education program; temporary absence due to suspension or school-approved illness; or death.

The following statements apply for the purpose of this definition:

  • The school year is the 12-month period of time from the first day of school (operationally set as October 1), with dropouts from the previous summer reported for the year and grade in which they fail to enroll.
  • Individuals who are not accounted for on October 1 are considered dropouts.
  • A school completer is an individual who graduated from high school or completed a state- or district-approved educational program upon receipt of formal recognition from school authorities. A state- or district-approved educational program may consist of special education and district or state-sponsored GED preparation.

Each year, CCD staff contact state coordinators to verify their dropout reporting practices. There are three main ways in which a state's reporting practices may differ from the CCD definition:

  • Alternative Reporting Calendar— the state does not follow a fall-to-fall school year. The CCD dropout count is based on an October–September school year in which a student's dropout status is determined at the beginning of the year. Some states follow a July–June calendar in which a student's dropout status is determined at the end of the school year. Dropout rates in states that follow an alternative reporting calendar are comparable to rates for states that follow the October–September calendar (Winglee et al. 2000). Data for states that follow alternative reporting calendars are published in the CCD data files, but are flagged as deviating from the CCD reporting calendar. The data tables accompanying this report indicate which states reported dropout data on an alternative reporting calendar.
  • Summer Dropouts—to meet the CCD definition, dropouts are accounted to the grade and school year for which they do not meet their obligation. Students who complete one school year but fail to enroll in the next school year are to be counted as dropouts from the school year and grade for which they failed to return. For example, a student completing grade 10 in 2003–04 who does not enroll the next year would be reported as a grade 11 dropout for 2004–05. States must comply with the definition of summer dropouts in order for the data to be published in the CCD data files.
  • Adult Education/General Education Development (GED)— students who leave high school to enroll in adult education/GED preparation programs should be reported as dropouts, unless the district tracks these students and reports as dropouts those who fail to complete the program. Also, students who have received a high school equivalency by October 1 are not dropouts regardless of where they prepared for the test, if the GED is an accepted high school credential in the state. States that do not report students enrolled in adult education as dropouts, with the exception of the above, are not in compliance with the CCD definition, and their data are not published.

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Computation of dropout rates. The following method is used to compute the event dropout rate:

Rg = Dg/Eg

where Rg = the grade 9–12 dropout rate (rounded to a single decimal place), Dg = the number of grade 9–12 dropouts, and Eg = the grade 9–12 enrollment.

As stated earlier, event dropout rates provide a measure of the percentage of students who drop out of school in a single year. Other dropout rates have been developed for other purposes. NCES has published several such rates including status and cohort dropout rates. Status dropout rates report the percentage of individuals in a given age range who are not in school and have not earned a high school diploma or equivalency credential, irrespective of when they dropped out. These rates can be used to study general population issues (e.g., see Laird, DeBell, and Chapman 2006). Cohort dropout rates are designed to measure the percentage of students in a given cohort or class who drop out over a period of time (e.g., see McMillen 1997).

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Treatment of ungraded students in counts of dropouts and enrollments for dropout rates. Dropout counts are reported by states to the CCD by grade (grades 7–12). Ungraded students who drop out of school are assigned by the LEA or state to the grade in the dropout count that most closely matches the grade they would have been enrolled in based on their age. Counts of ungraded student enrollments are prorated into graded enrollment counts in order to have denominators for the calculation of dropout rates that reflect the placement of ungraded dropouts in the graded numerators.

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Confidentiality protection of high school dropout data. Dropout data reported to the CCD have undergone disclosure risk analysis to eliminate the possibility of the data being used to identify individuals who dropped out of school. For both the LEA- and state-level public-use data files, each record was examined to determine whether a comparison of the dropout data to the affiliated grade membership could be used to accurately predict that an individual was a dropout.

Local Education Agency-Level Data—Disclosure risk analysis revealed that the risk of disclosing an individual as a dropout decreased as the total membership of an LEA increased. For the school year 2004–05, restricting the LEA-level file to LEAs with memberships of 1,000 students or more allows dropout and enrollment counts to be published for grade totals (i.e., grades 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12) for all LEAs that submitted dropout data, with the exception of six LEAs in four states. For these six LEAs, data in individual cells that had the risk of disclosing individuals who dropped out of school were suppressed (i.e., set to missing). These suppressed cells are indistinguishable from other data cells with missing values.

State-Level Data—Disclosure risk analysis revealed that there was a risk of disclosing the identity of an individual as a dropout for individuals reported by race/ethnicity and gender detail. Data in individual cells that had the risk of disclosing individuals who dropped out of school were suppressed (i.e., set to missing). These suppressed cells are indistinguishable from other data cells with missing values.

NCES also creates a restricted-use LEA-level data file. This data file contains no suppressions and is only available to researchers who have a restricted-use data license.

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Missing data. Not all states and jurisdictions report dropout data to the CCD. The Bureau of Indian Education and the Department of Defense dependents schools do not participate in the CCD dropout collection. Of the remaining states and jurisdictions that do participate in the CCD dropout collection, the District of Columbia and Guam did not report dropout data for the 2002–03 school year; the District of Columbia, Oregon, and Wisconsin did not report dropout data for the 2003–04 school year; and the District of Columbia, Oregon, and Guam did not report dropout data for the 2004–05 school year. Dropout data for Puerto Rico, while reported by Puerto Rico, are not included in this report because it was not possible to determine the extent to which they were affected by missing data.

Not all states collect and report all of the data items requested in the CCD survey. NCES does not impute missing items in the NCES Common Core of Data Local Education Agency-Level Public-Use Data File on Public School Dropouts or the NCES Common Core of Data State-Level Public-Use Data File on Public School Dropouts.

When reporting results, NCES treats missing data within individual states differently than it treats missing data across all states, the District of Columbia, and other jurisdictions as a whole. When reporting data by states, an individual state is considered to have missing data if an item is reported for less than 80 percent of eligible students. For example, if 9th-grade dropout counts for Asian/Pacific Islander females are missing for school districts that account for more than 20 percent of all 9th-grade Asian/Pacific Islander females in the state, then this dropout count is suppressed and treated as missing.

If information is missing for some but no more than 15 percent of eligible students across the 50 states and District of Columbia, NCES calculates totals and identifies them as "reporting states" totals (rather than totals for the United States).

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Totals. National totals reported in the tables are limited to the 50 states and the District of Columbia. They do not include data from the Bureau of Indian Education, Department of Defense dependents schools (overseas and domestic), Puerto Rico, or the other jurisdictions of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. In cases where not all but at least 85 percent of eligible students in the 50 states and the District of Columbia provide a response for a data item, a "reporting states" total is presented. See "Missing data" (above) for more information.

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Data limitations. The CCD does not collect data from private schools. It includes only public education system data as reported to NCES by the individual SEAs. Some states include nontraditional agencies, such as Departments of Correction, in their CCD reports, while others do not. States also vary in terms of treatment of alternative completion programs, such as credentials awarded for completion of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and GED programs.

There is variation in the degree of rigor with which SEAs verify their dropout data. NCES requires SEAs to confirm whether they comply with the CCD dropout definition and to confirm or amend any numbers that appear considerably out of line with other states or with data from previous years. However, NCES does not audit a state's or school district's dropout data.

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