Raising The Grade: Tracking dropout rates across the state

Wednesday, August 11th 2004, 10:30 am
By: News On 6

High school students within Tulsa Public Schools are disappearing at an alarming rate. The problem lies in the district's inability to track its students.

TPS says it just doesn't know where they go once they leave the district. And it's a problem that plagues nearly all of Oklahoma schools.

In this Raising The Grade, News on 6 reporter Tamara Pratt investigates the need for a statewide tracking system.

It's graduation. The conclusion of years of study. But between the start of their freshman year and graduation time, the Tulsa Public School District reported losing 49% of its high school students who would have graduated in 2002. The News on 6 requested 2003 data to see if the numbers improved, but the district was unable to give us complete information.

So going off what's available, we asked where did the students go? Maybe they dropped out, transferred, got their GED, or were incarcerated.

Oklahoma City schools have similar problems. Director of Planning for Oklahoma City Schools Dr. George Kimball: "if you were enrolled in our schools last year and we were expecting you back this year but you didn't show up for school. Then initially we have to categorize that student as a drop out. We don't know where you are."

No finger pointing, because all state school districts are in this situation. Districts have to report dropouts to the state and there's no requirement for sharing student information between districts. So what's left over falls through the cracks. "If we are truly concerned then we shouldn't be losing children like this." And that has State Senator Kathleen Wilcoxson of Oklahoma City concerned. "We need to know how we're doing in elementary schools and follow these children by the time they get to high school what impact did all those programs have on student learning. And until we can follow our students through those entire eras in their education life. We can't be successful and we can't be held accountable."

A partnership of business and education leaders, named OBEC, has been suggesting the State Department of Education start a statewide tracking system. Giving every student their own ID number to follow them from K through 12. But it's a project still in the works; leaving many wondering how many more kids will stay lost before the state finds them.

Statewide numbers are not great. Sometime between the start of their freshman year and graduation, 27% of high school students disappeared from Oklahoma's public school system. The number was the same last year.