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Arlington schools dispute being dropout factory

ARLINGTON Warren Hopkins is hopping mad.
The deputy superintendent of the Arlington School District is one of many educators across the country to take issue with a national study conducted by Johns Hopkins University.
In this report, Arlington High School was one of 22 schools in Washington state labeled as dropout factories, with 40 percent or higher dropout rates.
However, there are several different ways to calculate graduation rates and Hopkins took issue with the method used by Johns Hopkins University, which compared the number of high school seniors to the number of freshmen at those schools three years earlier.
Almost everyone is saying these numbers are faulty, Hopkins said. When all you do is divide the number of senior by the number of freshmen three years before, youre assuming that everyone is on a four-year track and that nobody has moved, for starters.
Because AHS does not award sophomore status to students until theyve achieved a certain number of credits, regardless of their time in school, Hopkins pointed out that its not uncommon for students to remain freshmen until the second semester of their second year in high school, which skews the ratios of freshmen to seniors.
We dont automatically move students up, Hopkins said. This study also fails to take into account population growth or transfers in and out of the school district. It doesnt even account for transfers within the school district, such as from Arlington to Weston High School. Because it combines three years in its results, from 2004-2006, its data is distorted even further.
Hopkins explained that ASD has been independently collecting its own graduation numbers since 1995, not only by comparing the numbers of AHS seniors to the numbers of Post, and now Haller, eighth-graders since 1995, but also by tracking the dropouts of each individual student.
In the ASD statistics, dropouts are categorized by categories as specific as suspensions and expulsions, pregnancies, working full-time, four years of attendance without graduation, unconfirmed transfers and obtaining a GED, since a GED technically counts as a dropout. Hopkins cited 2004 as a peak year for dropouts, but was quick to note the largest percentage of those dropouts.
Our dropout rate for the class of 2004 was 17.6 percent, and I was not happy about that, Hopkins said. But out of 93 dropouts, 49 were unconfirmed transfers, which means we werent tracking them well enough, and 15 were students who earned their GED. In 2005, when we only had two unconfirmed transfers, that dropout rate drops to 7.8 percent, with 11 GED completers, and in 2006, thats down to 6.1 percent. Thats a far cry from 40 percent.
For the class of 2007, a preliminary draft report shows a dropout rate of 11.1 percent, but that includes 10 unconfirmed transfers, which Hopkins expects will be corrected in later drafts. He added that the federal No Child Left Behind graduation rate gives AHS an even lower dropout rate of 4.5 percent.
When schools are deemed dropout factories based on questionable research methods, its harmful to a lot of good schools, Hopkins said. Regardless, any number of dropouts is too high, which is why we have programs such as the Link Crew, Weston High School and the Freshman Academy.
Maureen Stanton, principal of Weston High School and the Freshman Academy, explained how the two programs under her purview help stem the dropout rate.
The first step toward dropping out is when students start to feel disconnected from school, Stanton said. We build working relationships with our students, so that every student knows they have a staff member they can go to.
The Freshman Academy consists of approximately 50 students, drawn from seventh- and eighth-graders based on their grades and WASL scores. Those students are then divided up into classes of 12-13 each, which Stanton believes allows the teachers to learn each students learning style.
From there, we teach the students how to transfer into a school of 1,700 students, in classes of 30 each, Stanton said. Every teacher Ive met really wants to help students, and we need to make sure the kids know that.
Weston High School, the alternative high school, takes this personalized approach several steps further, by establishing daily advisories for each student to help them set goals and solve problems.
We really develop a family atmosphere, Stanton said.
Weston High School also devotes 20 hours of instruction to a school orientation, to acclimate students to the philosophy and operations of the school, and sets up calendars for them to help them prioritize their time as they complete their papers and cumulative projects.
We ask students to do so much now, just to get their diplomas, Stanton said. Weve allowed their cumulative projects to have a career focus to help bridge the gap with their lives after graduation. By letting them intern, employers benefit while students learn what they might want to do.
Weston High School also places students who are not passing their classes in after-school study sessions, but not as a punitive measure.
Failure is not an option, Stanton said. It gives them a chance to study longer, in a place with Internet access. Students can earn seven credits a year here, rather than six. We hate to lose any student for any reason, and in a smaller school we can pay more attention to them.

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