Where do all the students go?

The 454 seniors in Carson High School's graduating class of 2005-06 began with a much larger group four years ago - 741 freshmen.

Many students comprising that 39 percent loss continued their education in other ways - through adult education or a general-equivalency degree. Some moved out of the district. All these factors could be reasons why Nevada was ranked second to last in terms of graduation rates in a 2003-04 study by The Urban Institute, Education Policy Center.

"Since we got a report three or four years ago showing we were 49th, we took a lot of criticism in the state for having such high dropout rates," said Dr. Keith Rheault, state superintendent. "One thing the districts have done a better job at is providing more remedial programs. We know a lot of students drop out because they're credit deficient. The statewide average has been decreasing."

Battling credit deficiency is one way Carson High aims to decrease its number of students leaving - and the purpose behind a fairly new program called LINK, which connects upperclassmen with incoming students.

"A lot of times the transition from eighth grade to ninth grade is a very severe one," said Carson High School Principal Fred Perdomo. "We're concentrating more on keeping the freshmen out of becoming credit deficient. If you get behind your freshman year, you tend to stay behind all three years and you're into a massive make-up program taking adult-education classes and trying to get credits up to where they need to be. That's huge when you're trying to pass the proficiency exams."

The state drop-out rate was 6 percent in the 2002-03 year and 5.8 percent in the 2003-04 year. In Carson City schools, 1.7 percent (or 45 students) dropped out in the 2002-03 year and 2 percent (55 dropouts) in the 2003-04 year. Clark County had the largest percentage of dropouts at 7.6 percent the 2002-03 year and 7.2 percent the 2003-04 year. Students who leave a school to continue their education in an alternative program, transfer out or who have adjusted diplomas are not included in the dropout rate.

But contributing to it is the 24-hour nature of Nevada's economy, explained Perdomo. The promise of a full-time job lures some students, who can legally drop out at age 16.

"If you want to reduce the amount of dropouts then you also need some sort of an agreement with those that are employing the dropouts," he said. "Studies have been taken in communities that have one or two major employers and when the employer required all of (its employees) to have high school diplomas, the graduation rate went way up."

Also contributing is the high number of transients.

"This year's transiency rate was 15-17 percent," Perdomo said. "The year before last it went up to 38 percent. These are students moving in and out of the district. Some students may be going to charter schools, some go to Pioneer, some are home-schooled."

A recent statistic released by the state shows the smallest number of dropouts occurs among students in career and educational programs - at 1.7 percent. That's something to think about in a district seeking a bond that includes no expansion of vocational programs. The $25 million bond the district is seeking covers basic operational needs and an addition at Carson Middle School, but nothing for vocational classes, which fall far short of the number of student requests.

This year's graduation numbers could still increase, though not by much. Every year about 10 seniors need the last-chance summer exam to pass a proficiency. If they do, they will be added to the graduation count.

"(Our dropout rates are) not any different than at any other high school unless you're talking about a magnet school that has students apply, or a school of particular interest like college-prep or the arts or vocation," Perdomo said. "Whenever you have mandatory education and all of the students have to attend a school system, then you have to figure out ways to retain them. The high school and the school district are a reflection of the community."

So had much of the freshman class stayed in school over the past four years would there be room for them at Carson High?

"The capacity is 2,600," Perdomo said. "We're getting real close. It gets real tight. The enrollment has been decreasing over the past two years, but not by huge numbers - just 20 or 30 students each year."

• Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.


For more information on high school dropout rates across the state, go to nevadareportcard.com.


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