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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

ESSENTIAL TOOLS —
Increasing Rates of School Completion
Moving From Policy and Research to Practice

A Manual for Policymakers, Administrators, and Educators


What Do We Know About Who Drops Out and Why?

Many studies identify predictors and variables associated with dropout. In recent years, these variables have been categorized according to the extent to which they can be influenced to change the trajectory leading to dropout.

  • Status variables are difficult and unlikely to change (e.g., socioeconomic standing, disability or ability level, family structure).
  • Alterable variables are more amenable to change and can be influenced by students, parents, educators, and community members (e.g., attendance, identification with school, support services). Addressing alterable variables associated with dropout is encouraging because this approach has the potential to increase school completion.

Predictors and Factors Associated with Dropout for Students with Disabilities

  • Many status variables associated with dropout are similar for students with and without disabilities (e.g., low socio-economic background, Hispanic background).
  • Alterable variables associated with dropout identified for students with disabilities include high rates of absenteeism and tardiness, low grades and a history of course failure, limited parental support, low participation in extracurricular activities, alcohol or drug problems, negative attitudes toward school, high levels of mobility, and retention. In contrast, more time being mainstreamed, provision of tutoring services, training for competitive employment, and attending schools that maintained high expectations of special education students are associated with greater likelihood of school completion for students with emotional/behavioral disorders.

Reasons for Dropping Out of and Staying in School

Many researchers have gathered information using surveys and interviews about why students drop out of school. These explanations have been categorized as “push” or “pull” effects (Jordan, McPartland, & Lara, 1999).

  • Push effects include situations or experiences within the school environment that aggravate feelings of alienation, failure, and dropout.
  • Pull effects include factors that are external to the school environment that weaken and distract from the importance of school completion.

Students most often cite push factors as reasons for dropping out of school. In contrast to the identification of one primary reason for dropping out of school, the decision often appears to involve a host of factors (Kortering & Braziel, 1999).

Implications for Designing Interventions

Despite the extensive list of variables and predictors associated with dropout, the presence of one or more of these factors does not guarantee that a student will leave school early. However, the presence of multiple factors does increase the risk of dropout. The challenge is in using this information to target students who are in need of intervention based on efficient and accurate predictors. Targeting students who are most likely to drop out for intervention is complex.

Additionally, focusing on variables that educators and others can influence is important when thinking about designing and implementing interventions to enhance school completion for students with and without disabilities.


Table of Contents

Cover Page

Introduction & Getting Started

Part I: What Do We Know About Dropout Prevention?

Part II: How Were Sample Intervention Programs Selected?

  • The Need for Examples of Effective Interventions
  • Search Process & Initial Criteria
  • Raising the Bar
  • Final Parameters for Selection
  • Abstracts: Coding & Definitions

Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?

Part IV: Where Else Can I Go for More Information?

  • Related Resources & Organizations
  • Journal Articles & Related Publications
  • Web Sites Providing Data on Dropout Rates

Appendix: Reproducible Handouts on Dropout Prevention

References



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Citation: Lehr, C. A., Johnson, D. R., Bremer, C. D., Cosio, A., & Thompson, M. (2004). Essential tools: Increasing rates of school completion: Moving from policy and research to practice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.