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State report: RSS shows increase in dropouts, suspensions, crime

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Schools system has one of the state’s largest percentage increases in dropouts over a three-year period, according to a recent state report.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s 2015-16 Consolidated Data Report was released to the General Assembly on Jan. 26 and shows a statewide increase in short-term suspensions. Other markers, such as long-term suspensions and reportable crime, decreased.

But over the past three years, dropout rates in Rowan-Salisbury Schools have climbed sharply — along with those in Camden, Cherokee and Macon counties and Mount Airy City Schools. The district reported 194 dropouts in the 2015-16 school year, a 22.8 percent increase from the 158 who left area schools in 2014-15.

Cherokee County schools had a 43.8 percent increase between 2014-15 and 2015-16; Macon County, a 71.4 percent increase; and Mount Airy schools, a 100 percent increase.

This is the highest number of dropouts since 2011-12, when 185 students chose not to return to area high schools. In 2012-13, the number plummeted to 73 students before rising unexpectedly in 2014-15.

Most of the students who dropped out of Rowan-Salisbury schools, 123, were male and 71 were female.

Statewide, that number has decreased since 2014-15.  The state’s dropout rate ticked down to 2.29 percent from 2.39 percent the previous year. In 2015-16, 10,889 students dropped out, compared to 11,190 students the previous year.

The report also notes that while the number of high school students dropping out decreased at all grade levels, students dropped out most frequently in 10th grade (30.2 percent), followed by ninth grade (28.3 percent).

Attendance was the reason most often cited for dropping out, accounting for 46.5 percent of all dropouts. Leaving to enroll in a community college came in second at 11.1 percent, which was down from 15.8 percent in 2014-15.

According to the report, that decrease is attributable in part to a policy change by the State Board of Education in 2015 to exclude from dropout counts those students who leave high school to enroll in adult high school programs at community colleges. As a result, 307 students from 40 school districts were not included in the enrollment in a community college dropout count.

“It is critical to note that this rate is not the same as the four-year cohort graduation rate,” the Department of Public Instruction said in a news release. “The cohort graduation rate follows a class of students, starting in ninth grade, and measures the percentage of students who graduate four years later. North Carolina reported a four-year cohort graduation rate for the class of 2016 of 85.9 percent, a record high for the state. Compared to the dropout rate, the four-year cohort graduation rate is considered a more comprehensive picture of students’ persistence and high school completion.”

Short-term suspensions also increased in Rowan-Salisbury Schools in 2015-16 — rising from 3,552 in 2014-15 to 4,165 in 2015-16. Short-term suspension rates rose statewide, as well, from 208,650 in 2014-15 to 216,895 in 2015-16.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools reported no expulsions for the 2015-16 school year.

And while the system’s number of reportable incidents increased, from 110 in 2014-15 to 178 in 2015-16, the type of crime has shifted. The 2014-15 year saw in increase in types of assault; this year, that number dropped from 16 to 10 districtwide. Nine of those were assaults on school personnel; five of those incidents occurred at area elementary schools.

Salisbury High had the highest number of reported incidents, with 30 reports of possession of a controlled substance. Carson High School had the second-highest at 25 — with 17 instances of possession of a controlled substance, one instance of possession of alcohol and seven instances with possession of a weapon.

The main culprit for the increase in reportable crime is possession of a controlled substance — instances of which rose from 67 in the 2014-15 year to 115 in the 2015-16 year. Last school year also saw an increase in students possessing a weapon — from 23 to 32.

The Department of Public Instruction requires schools to report 16 criminal offenses including: assault resulting in serious personal injury; assault involving a weapon; assault involving school officials, employees or volunteers; bomb threats or hoaxes; possession of a controlled substance; unlawful purchase, provision, possession or consumption of alcohol by an underage person; rape; possession of a firearm; kidnapping; homicide; possession of a weapon; willfully burning a school building; robbery with a dangerous weapon; sexual assault; sexual offense; and indecent liberties with a minor.

The full report, including state, district and charter high school dropout counts and rates for 2015-16, is available online. Questions about the report may be directed to NCDPI Communications at 919.807.3450.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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