The dropout rate rose in Rock Hill schools last year, halting three years of improvement, according to data the district has submitted to the state.
Two-hundred, sixty-three students, or 5.19 percent of the district's high school enrollment, left school between fall 2009 and fall 2010, according to the data. That's up from an official rate of 2.9 percent the year before.
The figure, calculated by district officials, is preliminary until verified by the state Department of Education.
Elsewhere in York County, dropout rates remained relatively flat, according to districts' calculations.
Fort Mill schools' preliminary rate is 1.4 percent, up slightly from the previous year's official rate of 1.1 percent, but down from 2.5 percent in 2006-2007.
York schools' preliminary dropout rate is about 3.1 percent, Superintendent Vernon Prosser said. The rate was 3 percent the year before and 3.8 percent in 2006-2007.
The rate for Clover schools is not yet available.
Rock Hill school officials attribute the higher rate to two factors: One, the district has been successful in getting a larger number of dropouts than in the past back in class. That success was short lived in some cases, because a significant number of those students quit again, executive director of student services Keith Wilks said. Specific numbers were unavailable.
Two, the district installed new computer software to track student enrollment and attendance last year. During the changeover, access to student records was temporarily unavailable, making the tracking of students less precise. Wilks said he believes some students counted in the dropout rate may be enrolled in school in another state.
"Those are the only things I can see that were different from any other year," Wilks said.
The increase in Rock Hill's rate comes after the district increased efforts in recent years to keep students in school.
The district offers adult education programs, as well as credit recovery courses, for dropouts. Social workers visit dropouts at home and try to convince them to return.
In June 2008 district staffers visited about 70 students who had left school. Seventeen agreed to re-enroll.
School officials said those efforts, and more precise record-keeping, caused the dropout rate to fall for three straight years. Between the 2005-2006 school year and 2008-2009, the dropout rate fell from 8.3 percent to 2.9 percent.
Officials are investigating what caused last year's increase.
Part of the challenge is learning why students leave and addressing it, Wilks said.
"What I'd love to do is have a large enough hook to invite the kids in and survey why they didn't finish," he said.
It's unclear whether the dropout rate was equal among the district's three high schools.
The district won't review those rates until the state verifies the data, Associate Superintendent Luanne Kokolis said.
S.C. public schools track high-school completion in two ways: the graduation rate and dropout rate.
The graduation rate is calculated by tallying the number of ninth-graders who earn diplomas four years later. Rock Hill's and the state's current graduation rate, released last fall, is 73 percent for the class of 2009.
The dropout rate tracks how many students leave each year. The state's dropout rate, released in December, was 3.4 percent.
About two years ago Rock Hill Superintendent Lynn Moody and her staff, in conjunction with city leaders, held a "dropout summit" in which 140 people brainstormed ways to reach teens on the verge of quitting school.
The district billed it as "a call to action" to find strategies "to stop dropouts in Rock Hill."