COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s dropout rate declined for the fourth straight year, as hundreds fewer students quit their schooling in 2011-12, the state Education Department reported Wednesday.
More than 5,200 ninth- through 12th-graders dropped out in 2011-12, representing 2.5 percent. That’s nearly 670 fewer students than a year earlier and 2,800 fewer than in 2007-08, according to the agency.
In York County, dropout rates in three out of four school districts – Rock Hill, York and Clover – also fell. Only Fort Mill schools’ dropout rate, which is among the lowest in the state, increased slightly. Chester and Lancaster county schools also saw improved dropout rates.
Allendale County posted the worst dropout rate, at 5.3 percent of its high school enrollment – representing 18 students – followed by the statewide public charter school district, at 4.8 percent, representing 234 students. Edgefield and Williamsburg counties tied for the best rate, at 0.1 percent, representing a single student in each district.
The year-to-year dropout rate is different from the graduation rate. The dropout rate reflects how many teens officially withdrew over a federal fiscal year or became too old to return. Students can legally drop out at age 17 and cannot stay in school past age 21.
The graduation rate measures students earning a regular diploma in four years. South Carolina’s graduation rate for 2012 was nearly 75 percent.
Superintendent Mick Zais said declining dropout rates should lead to better graduation rates, which he considers a key indicator of success for the entire kindergarten-through-12th grade system.
“The path to prosperity for South Carolina’s economy begins, but does not end, with greater numbers of high school graduates,” Zais said.
The dropout rate declined in 51 of the state’s 85 school districts, according to the latest report.
White, black and Hispanic students, as well as poor students, posted better rates for staying in school. The biggest improvement occurred among black students. In 2011-12, about 2,150 black students dropped out, representing 366 fewer than a year earlier and 1,431 fewer than in 2007-08.
Broken down by grade level, more than half of the dropouts occurred in ninth and 10th grades. Various reports show that students who arrive in high school after years of being socially promoted with their peers, despite being behind academically, often get stuck in the ninth grade and become dropouts.
“Legislators must focus their efforts on policies that end social promotion and require students to demonstrate mastery of basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills before third grade,” Zais said.
Earlier this year, senators considered a bill aimed at boosting students’ chances for success by ensuring they can read by the fourth grade.
Debate on the bill will continue when legislators return in January. But legislators did put pieces of the overall effort in the 2013-14 state budget, adding $1.5 million for summer reading camps and $26 million to expand poor children’s access to full-day 4-year-old kindergarten.