Del. high school dropout rate at three-decade low

 The Delaware state Board of Education meets Thursday. State education leaders presented 2016 gradation and dropout rates, both of which represented improvements over the previous year. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The Delaware state Board of Education meets Thursday. State education leaders presented 2016 gradation and dropout rates, both of which represented improvements over the previous year. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Dropout rates for Delaware high school students fell to their lowest level in more than three decades in 2016 while graduation rates increased slightly, state officials announced Thursday.

While dropout rates are down and graduation rates up, state officials continue to grapple with ways and strategies to increase proficiency rates in basic subjects. Barely half of 11th graders passed state-required English tests, and only 4 of 10 are proficient in math, according to the latest statistics.

This is the reality in a a state which spends about $2 billion annually in state, local and federal money on K-12 education. The state’s contribution, about $1.2 billion, is roughly one-third of Delaware’s general fund budget.

The graduation rate in 2016 was 84.7 percent, up 0.3 percent from the previous year, the statistics show.

The school districts with the highest graduation rates were the New Castle County Vocational-Technical, Polytech and Sussex Tech, which all saw more than 95 percent receive diplomas. Appoquinimink and Brandywine led the non-technical districts with 89.8 percent and 89.7 percent, respectively.

The worst graduation rate statewide was Christina, at 69.4 percent.

Graduation rates for students who live in Wilmington, which includes some of Delaware’s lowest-performing schools and some of its most impoverished and violent neighborhoods, also showed improvement — up from 69.1 percent to 70.4 percent.

The graduation and dropout data was presented to the state Board of Education during  its monthly meeting in Dover. State officials cited special retention programs and other initiatives, such as helping students recover credits, for the gains in graduation and reduction in dropout rates.

Of the 40,287 students in Delaware public schools in the 2015-16 school year, 547 dropped out. The dropout rate  — 1.4 percent — represents a 36 percent drop from 2.2 percent the previous year. The state’s report said the state hasn’t seen rate that low since the early 1980s.

The dropout rate for students who live in Wilmington fell from 4.5 to 3.1 percent, officials said.

Of those who dropped out statewide, 43.6 percent were African American, 34.5 percent white and 21.7 percent Hispanic. All three groups, however, saw reductions in their own dropout rates.

All three counties — upstate New Castle and downstate Kent and Sussex — also had lower dropout rates in 2015-16. The biggest drop was in New Castle, which fell from 2.0 percent to 1.0 percent.

Three upstate charter or magnet schools in the Red Clay Consolidated district had no dropouts — Conrad School of Science, Newark Charter and Cab Calloway School of the Arts.

The high schools with the worst dropout rates were Sussex Couty’s Laurel (4 percent), Woodbridge and Sussex Central (both 3.5 percent). Upstate, Dickinson and William Penn had the highest dropout rates at 3.5 percent.

Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, who took her post in January after a long tenure as superintendent of the Indian River district in Sussex, said she was encouraged by the improvements.

“That said, we recognize we still have work to do. Too many of our children still are choosing to leave before earning their diplomas, setting themselves up for great challenges in life.”

Board member Pat Heffernan said he is well-aware of the challenges but heartened by the new statistics.

“This is good news,” Heffernan said, adding that he was pleased to see the state report data specifically for Wilmington.


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