Understanding Dropout Data

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  1. The definition of dropout changed in 1998-99.
  2. Dropout counting criteria were made more explicit in 2003-04 with the implementation of the Individual Student Enrollment System (ISES).
  3. Dropout rates are calculated in a new way beginning in 2003-04.
  4. 2003-04 was a year of transition to a new dropout data collection, ISES, and as a result:
    • ISES data for certain districts and schools may not be comprehensive.
    • It was not possible to collect summer dropout data for 2003-04 in ISES so these data were collected separately and may be incomplete.
    • Increases or decreases in counts from 2002-03 to 2003-04 or 2003-04 to 2004-05 may not reflect increases or decreases in actual dropouts due to changes in the way counting criteria are applied.

How is dropout defined?

Beginning with 1998-99, a dropout for the reported school term is a student who was enrolled in school at some time during that school term, was not enrolled at the beginning of the next school term (third Friday in September), has not completed high school, and does not meet any of the following exclusionary conditions: transfer to another public school district, private school, or state- or district-approved educational program; temporary absence due to expulsion, suspension or school-approved illness; death. Students who completed the reported school term but who did not return as expected for the next school term are counted as dropouts for the next school term.

Prior to 1998-99, a dropout for the reported school term is a student not attending school and who should be, and who hasn't received a diploma or been granted a diploma for completion of a state- or district-approved educational program. A student is not considered a dropout if he or she meets one of the following exclusions: transfer, excused absence, imprisonment, hospitalization, or death.

Dropouts are reported as annual events for grades seven through 12 and are often used to track annual changes in dropout behavior. A dropout in any given school year may or may not re-enter school in a later school year.

How did implementation of the Individual Student Enrollment System (ISES) affect counting of dropouts?

Criteria for counting dropouts were made more explicit with the implementation of ISES reducing differences in local interpretation of the dropout definition. ISES is designed to document student movements into and out of the PK-12 educational system. Data about student movements is used by ISES to determine if a student is a dropout or not. In ISES, dropouts are counted based primarily on the Wisconsin Student Locator System (WSLS) enrollment records, ISES exit types, and ISES completed school term indicators.

Before ISES, dropouts were counted locally, often manually, based on relatively ambiguous and more limited counting criteria. Two examples: (1) ISES counts summer dropouts for the school term when they fail to enroll but until 2003-04 certain districts counted summer dropouts for the school term when they were last enrolled and (2) ISES does not count students for any reporting purpose who reached age 21 prior to the beginning of the reported school term but until 2003-04 this criterion was often left unstated and some districts continued to include these students in their counts.

How is the dropout rate calculated?

Beginning with 2003-04, the dropout rate is the number of students who dropped out during the school term divided by the total expected to complete the school term in that school or district. The "total expected to complete the school term" may be more or less than the fall enrollment count because this "total" adjusts for student transfers in and out after the fall enrollment count date.

"Total expected to complete the school term" is the denominator used to calculate all dropout rates and is the sum of

Prior to 2003-04, the dropout rate is the number of dropouts divided by the number of students enrolled on the fall enrollment count date.

Dropout rates calculated as described above are sometimes called "annual event dropout rates" and are used to track annual changes in dropout behavior. These rates are sometimes confused with "status dropout rates" which look at percentage of individuals in a given age range who are not in school and have not completed high school. Status dropout rates are used to study general population issues.

What are the sources of WINSS dropout data?

Beginning with 2004-05, dropouts and dropout rates are based on data collected by the Individual Student Enrollment System (ISES). Total enrollment is also based on ISES beginning in 2004-05 and is provided for comparison purposes only (no longer used in calculating dropout rates beginning with 2003-04).

For 2003-04, dropout data came from ISES and a separate one-time aggregate collection of 2003-04 summer dropout counts.

Prior to 2003-04, dropout counts were based on the School Performance Report aggregate collection. Dropout rates used "Total enrollment" by gender, race/ethnicity, and grade from the PI 1290 fall enrollment collection. "Total enrollment" by disability status for 2002-03 and 2003-04 is based on the PI 2197 Federal Student Data Collection (AKA December 1 Child Count) and the PI 1290.

Dropout rates are publicly reported annually as part of the School District Performance Report (SDPR). More detailed data about this and other topics are available through WISEdash and WINSS Data Analysis.

Where can I find more information?

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