With all of the efforts being made to keep kids in schools, the Sunnyside School District is seeing a decline in the number of students who leave school. This past year of the 1,347 students who started the 2003-04 school year at the high school, 8.6 percent dropped out.
"But that is not to say those students didn't end up deciding to continue their education further down the line," said Gary Vegar, the Sunnyside School District's director of curriculum and learning.
He said the state definition of a dropout refers to those students who leave school failing to graduate with their peers. "Many of the students will continue their education in some other fashion," he said.
For example, some students will return to school at PRIDE High School, the district's alternative school, and others will elect to earn their GED, he explained.
"I think schools are doing a better job of keeping kids in school by offering more support programs, which meet the needs of the non-traditional students.
"For those who don't work well in the regular classroom, we are offering a variety of alternative education and mentoring programs to help them to succeed," Vegar said.
The Sunnyside figures reflect the declining state public high school dropout rate, according to figures issued from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The estimated high school drop-out rate for Washington public schools students declined 6.7 percent during the 2002-03 school year, down a full percentage point from 2001-02.
However, the reduction in the number of dropouts leaving school without a diploma doesn't show a higher number of in graduation rates. Vegar said that is understandable.
Vegar said the state judges the drop-out rate on the total number of students who drop out of school between the ninth and 12 grades, who don't end up graduating on time within the four-year time line.
For some kids, earning that coveted high school diploma in four years is just taking longer, he said.
A number of factors play into the disparity. "For example, some teens drop out to work or have babies, only to return to school several months or a year later to resume their education. One area where the percentage rates are higher for dropout rates is at the state's alternative high schools."
For example, PRIDE High School in Sunnyside shows 45.3 percent dropout rates, based on its 2003-04 school enrollment of 158 students.
But here again the annual dropout rate doesn't show the number of students who may have elected to return to school to complete their education, Vegar said.
In nearby Mabton School District, the dropout rate was listed at zero for the past year, while Grandview reportedly had 50 students drop out of school, using the state formula.
According to the OSPI figures, an estimated 65.7 percent of the state's students graduated on time in 2003, while another 10 percent remained enrolled to continue working toward their diploma.
The estimated cumulative dropout rate for the state class of 2003 was 24.3 percent. However, about half of those students termed as dropouts were students who could not be tracked after leaving school and had not yet earned a diploma.
Vegar believes the actual number of students graduating is better than the state's figures. "We just need a better way to track those students who return to earn their diplomas through other programs," he said.