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2007 Spotlight

High School Coursetaking

A Special Look

Dropouts and Course Credit Accrual

This special analysis so far has focused on coursetaking for high school graduates, or more precisely, students who graduate high school within 4 years of starting. Although some students are still enrolled in high school after their classmates have graduated, others have dropped out. It is important to understand how the coursetaking patterns of students who eventually drop out compare with those of students who receive a high school diploma. A lack of credit accrual—credits earned per year—early in high school has been shown to be one of the better predictors for subsequent dropping out (Allensworth and Easton 2005). Students may not accrue the expected number of credits because they earn a failing grade or attempt too few credits.

This special look considers the extent to which there are differences by 10th grade in the credit accrual for students who eventually drop out compared with students who graduate on time.13 Table 2 shows the credit accrual (in Carnegie units) by 2002, their sophomore year, for dropouts and "on-time graduates" (Hampden-Thompson et al. 2007). Some students drop out before 10th grade; their counts are not reflected here, nor are those of students who attain an alternative credential (e.g., GED), or who are still in school after 2004.

Students who eventually dropped out were behind their peers who graduated on time in the total number of credits they accrued in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 academic years (9th and 10th grades, respectively, for on-time graduates) as well as the amount they accrued in their English, mathematics, and science courses in both academic years. In the 2000-01 academic year, students who would eventually drop out after the 10th grade earned an average of 5.1 credits, while those who graduated on time in 2004 earned an average of 6.6 credits. Year-to-year change shows that credit accrual declined for dropouts, putting them further behind. While on-time graduates accrued 6.6 and 6.7 credits in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 academic years, dropouts earned even fewer credits in 2001-02 (4.6) than they did in the previous academic year (5.1).

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13“On-time” graduates are students who graduated between the fall of 2003 and the summer of 2004. (back to text)

Figures and Tables

Table 2: Average course credit accrual of spring 2002 10th-graders, by academic year, subject, and high school status: 2004