FIRST IN PRINT ... Big drop in dropouts: Iberville schools rates now lower than state average

Deidre Cruse

The dropout rate in Iberville Parish public schools has dropped significantly over the past two years, and at a rate better than the state average, which also showed marked improvement, according to a state Department of Education report released last week.

The state department credited the improvements to a combination of initiatives aimed at keeping students in school and an improved reporting system.

In Iberville Parish, more accurate record keeping by computer and a variety of programs for students had made the difference, said Erin Gross, the Iberville school district's statistician who works with the intervention program to prevent dropouts.

Locally, the dropout rate for students in grades 7-12 was 6.6 percent (147 students) during the 2008-09 school year, above 4.8 percent for the state. Last year, the rate improved to 2.4 percent (47 students), more than a point below the 3.5 percent state average.

Gross said the 2009-08 figures are not final, and that the system had recently identified another 10 to14 students who had not dropped out “so it's even lower than that.”

Among local students in grades 9-12, the rate dropped from 7.9 percent (116 students) in 2008-09 to 3.2 percent (38 students) in 2009-10. Statewide, the rate dropped from 6.3 percent to 4.6 percent.

A state department news release said the 28 percent decline in dropouts over the two years is the largest reduction in the history recorded since the state began tracking the dropout rate in 2001.

A new reporting system adopted two years ago allowed school districts to play a more direct role in detecting administrative errors and correcting information on each dropout, the department said.

Also, the state adopted a federal standard for classifying adult education students. Before 2009, students who left school for GED programs were classified as dropouts. In the 2009-10, students who enrolled at an adult education center monitored by the school local system were not counted as dropouts unless they withdrew from the program or failed to earn a GED by October 1 of the following school year.

Two-thirds of students drop out to enroll in adult education programs, including a third who attend programs monitored by their school districts.

“We have a great relationship now with the adult education program,” Gross said of the Iberville system, with direct contact to Janet Tassin, who directs the program for several parishes. “When we get kids into adult education -- get them in and get them out (with their GEDs) -- that increases our graduation numbers and decreases our dropout rate.”

The district's new computer system provides much more accurate reports on dropouts, she said.

“Where we had to search through a lot more paper records, we have it all computerized,” Gross said.

Several remedial programs also have made a difference in keeping students in school, she said:

– Jobs for America's Graduates at the junior high and high school levels helps struggling students earn credits toward their GED or high school diploma, which in turn lowers the dropout rate.

– A credit recovery program allows students to take computer classes to make up credits they have missed.

“It keeps them in school,” Gross said. “They don't get so far behind.”

– A remediation program for overage seventh, eighth and ninth graders at Plaquemine High School allows students to earn a GED faster than would normally be the case.

A reading program for all seventh and eighth graders in the district targets students who are not reading on grade level to help them raise their skills before they get out of high school.