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Dropout rates fall across county

High school dropout rates dipped significantly throughout Jackson County last year, following a statewide trend, according to an annual state report released Tuesday.

The average number of dropouts for the county is 4.7 percent, down from 6.9 percent in 2005.

The state's average dropped to 4.1 percent, the lowest since reporting began in 1991.

The percentages represent the students in ninth through 12th grades who dropped out in 2005-06, versus the four-year rate, which is a state estimate of the percentage of pupils who permanently drop out during a four-year period. Dropouts exclude pupils who home-school, receive a GED or other adult diploma or are deceased.

Enhanced student tracking systems and concerted efforts by the state and school districts to curb the dropout rate are the likely reasons for the shrinking numbers, said Linda Burgin, research analyst with the Oregon Department of Education.

"A lot of times a high school doesn't know when a student who dropped out graduated with a GED from a community college," Burgin said. "The state does a lot of different matching to account for those students. Electronics help a lot."

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires a 92 percent graduation rate for school compliance, is another driving force in reducing the dropout rate. Districts such as Rogue River have instituted aggressive credit retrieval programs in which students can make up work after school and in the summer. Schools such as North Medford, South Medford and Phoenix also have focused on catching struggling students early through advisories and other methods.

"Historically, in Oregon, as the unemployment rate goes up, the number of dropouts goes down," Burgin said. "What has happened in the last three years is that the unemployment rate has gone down, but the dropout rate has remained level."

The majority of dropouts across the state reported dropping out because they were behind in credits. The second highest reason was a lack of parental support, followed by a dysfunctional family life.

Crater High in the Central Point School District touted the county's lowest dropout rate at 1.2 percent, down from 3.9 percent in 2005.

District officials attributed the decline to better student tracking and academic interventions, which give students more chances for one-on-one attention and tutoring.

"We really need the opportunity to do the analysis and to talk about what specific factors contributed to this, so at this point we are guessing," said Samantha Steele, education director in the Central Point district.

South Medford High, with 1,887 students, and Rogue River High, with 436 pupils, ranked second in the smallest number of dropouts in the county for 2006, with dropouts accounting for 1.6 percent of the senior class.

The highest dropout rates came from the county's alternative schools and the tiniest schools, Butte Falls and Prospect, where one dropout can inflate percentages.

The county's newest addition to the annual report, Eagle Point Alternative High, had the largest rate at 30.6 percent. The new school of 144 pupils likely helped to decrease Eagle Point High's dropout rate, which fell from 7.8 to 2.5 percent.

Medford Opportunity High's rate declined to 14.5 percent, from 20.5 percent. Located on the campus of North Medford High, the alternative school serves 1,268 pupils from both North Medford and South Medford high schools.

The rate shrunk from 12.4 percent to 7.7 percent at Armadillo Technical Institute, a charter school of 182 students in the Phoenix-Talent district that serves pupils from across the state.

"We have a high percentage of students who are in and out, in and out," said Mike Warner, Armadillo co-director. "That's the nature of our population. We are so small that a one-year rate doesn't tell you very much."

Butte Falls and Prospect high schools registered rates of 3.8 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

Other rates included 2.7 percent at North Medford High, 2.8 percent at Phoenix High and 2.3 percent at Ashland High.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.