Evidence Justifying the Research Problem

Policymakers and practitioners identify and target the needs of DOP students using their exhibited behaviors and characteristics as indicators. They include attendance patterns, achievement scores, intelligence scores, attitude towards school, and teacher input (Coleman, 1993). Retention and suspension are also indicators of a student’s likelihood of dropping out (Carpenter & Ramirez, 2007). Whether or not a student has been arrested (Brownstein, 2010) is also a dropout indicator. Students most often attribute their attitude toward dropout to parent involvement and a feeling of connectedness to their school (Haley, 2006; Myint-U, A., et al., 2008), illustrating the impact of expectations and motivation on student perception and behavior (Montmarquette, et al., 2007). Interestingly, dropouts will admit that they had plans for how they would have used their diploma (Lachman-Fitzgerald, 1999). Research indicates that students with a higher number of risk factors are more likely to attend a non-traditional school, such as an alternative school (Hemmer, 2009).

Dropout rates differ across demographic areas. The dropout rate for Latino, African American, and White students are 27.8%, 13.1%, and 6.9%, respectively (Brewster & Bowen, 2004). Approximately 11% of students with disabilities drop out of school. Between 50%-59% of students with emotional/behavioral disorders drop out of school, and 32%-36% of students with learning disabilities drop out of school (Kemp, 2006). Students with emotional/behavioral disorders are known to have the lowest grade point average for any group of students with disabilities (Riccomini, et al., 2005).

Indicators are not limited to student characteristics. In fact, schools can assess whether operational characteristics may be negatively impacting their dropout rate. Some factors include overcrowding, high student-teacher ratios, lack of trained staff, limited opportunities in school activities, and infrequent interaction between adults and students (Christie & Yell, 2008).

In March of 2006 the Gates Foundation released The Silent Epidemic, a study that examined the reasons why students drop out as indicators for research. The foundation conducted surveys soliciting responses directly from dropout students. The population of the study consisted of four focus groups. They totaled 467 ethnically and racially diverse 16 to 24 year olds who did not complete high school. Participants lived in 25 different locations – including large cities, small towns, and suburbs. Researchers found that the primary reasons for dropping out did not emphasize a belief that the work was too hard. The top five reasons participants revealed for dropping out of school were (Bridgeland, et al., p. 3):

  Classes were not interesting
  Missed too many days and could not catch up
  Spent time with people who were not interested in school
  Had too much freedom and not enough rules in my life
  Was failing school

Other reasons included lack of motivation, low expectations held by adults, the student had to get a job, and the student became a parent. Overall, the students who participated in the study accepted responsibility for not graduating, with 51% of students responding that they were responsible, 26% responding that both the school and the student were responsible, and 22% responding that the school was responsible (Bridgeland, et al., 2006). It is important for the education system to prioritize these outcomes to improve this population’s well-being as individuals and for the nation as a whole in an increasingly competitive global economy. (Tyler & Lofstrom, 2009). School factors known to positively impact the dropout rate include the availability of a freshman academy, team teaching, interdisciplinary planning, teacher discussion, student mentoring, individualized instruction, and counseling (Zvoch, 2006). Further, academic performance and school engagement are strong indicators of a student’s likelihood of school success (Hupfield, 2011).


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