Lawrence High School's dropout rate rose slightly last year, marking the third year in a row that the rate has increased.
Meanwhile, Lawrence school officials are implementing new measures to identify the reasons students drop out and are developing other ways to measure the dropout rate itself.
Last year, the number of Lawrence students in grades nine through 12 who dropped out was 109, representing 4.7 percent of the students in those grades.
That rate has steadily increased for the last three years. In 1986-87, 72 students, or 3.1 percent, dropped out. That figure went to 87 students, 3.7 percent, in 1987-88; to 98 students, 4.2 percent, in 1988-89; and then to 4.7 percent last year.
The average dropout rate among 10 area districts last year was 3.74 percent, with Oskaloosa showing the lowest rate of 0.8 percent and Eudora showing the highest rate of 10 percent. Basehor-Linwood, which had a dropout rate of 4.9 percent, was the only other area district besides Eudora that had a higher dropout rate than Lawrence.
THE STATE average dropout rate was 4.2 percent last year, down from 4.5 percent in the 1988-89 school year.
Brad Tate, LHS principal, said he could pinpoint no particular reasons for the school's increasing dropout rate. However, he said a number of new programs have been designed to lower that rate and to identify the reasons students do leave school.
Tate said school officials are conducting a new, extensive exit interview with students who drop out.
"I'm trying to get a snapshot of what a dropout looks like," Tate said.
Sandra Holloway, director of student services for the district, agreed that the interviews could be helpful.
"We get information about why kids did drop out, and that will help us with intervention efforts early on," she said.
Tate said one intervention effort is the high school's new mentoring program, in which about 15 sophomores considered at risk of not graduating are each assigned a teacher-mentor.
"THE IDEA is for the teacher to establish a good relationship with the student," Tate said. "We ask that they try to see each other every day, even if it's just to say hello."
Tate said the teachers and students occasionally might have lunch together or even plan weekend activities.
The school also has established a program in which students considered at risk of not graduating are monitored in such areas as attendance and grades. Tate said all of the students, as well as many of their parents, know they are being monitored.
"If we spot a problem, we have a wide range of services available for those students," Tate said.
One such program is Kansas University's Youth Educational Services (YES), in which KU students tutor LHS students in subjects the younger students find difficult. LHS also has a Care Team made up of teachers, counselors, administrators and other staff members who meet once a week to discuss how to help individual students.
ALTHOUGH the district still is trying to determine the overriding reasons students drop out, teen-age pregnancy definitely is one of them. This year, seven students have dropped out since Christmas because of complications in trying to find day care for their children.
The Lawrence Alternative High School, which offers students more flexible hours, helps students in such situations. The district also is considering establishing a day care center at LHS.
While keeping students in school is the main goal, Holloway said, accurately estimating the dropout rate can help with that effort.
"There are several different ways you can look at dropout rates, and it will have a dramatic difference in what your rate is," she said.
Holloway said one variation is to examine the dropout rate of a particular class, and she presently is developing two measures of the dropout rate for the class of 1990.
In one method, Holloway will calculate a yearly dropout rate for that class. In another, she will look at the dropout rate for only those students in the class of 1990 who were in the district since at least the 10th grade.
"WE THINK it's important to look at the kids who have been with us the longest," Holloway said, adding that the immigration of students tends to increase the dropout rate.
Holloway said the district soon hopes to make its own evaluations on how different racial groups do in school.
According to Kansas State Department of Education figures, 15 black students dropped out of LHS last year, making a dropout rate of 10.3 percent for that group in grades 10-12. Also in grades 10-12, the dropout rate was 14 percent for Hispanic students, 10.9 percent for Native American students and 1.8 percent for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The dropout rate was 5.6 percent for Caucasian students in grades 10-12.
The school district reported no ninth-grade dropouts last year. The junior class had the greatest number of dropouts, with 49.
Gary Watson, a research analyst with the state department of education, said anyone who is 16 can legally leave school. Therefore, he said, "You almost always get the highest dropout rate in 11th grade."
The dropout rate was slightly higher among male students than among female students, with 6.8 percent of males and 5.7 percent of females dropping out in grades 10-12.