PORTLAND — Maine has a higher high school dropout rate than the state has been reporting, a newspaper said Sunday as it cited figures based on its own analysis.
Figures reported by the Maine Sunday Telegram also show that the percentage of students who don’t make it through all four years of high school is rising.
Maine Education Commissioner J. Duke Albanese acknowledged that the state’s figures do not show the whole picture and said the new figures showing slipping graduation rates warrant more study and analysis.
“The trend is certainly going down for sure,” Albanese said. “That is a cause for concern.”
Figures reported by the newspaper show that in 1993, 81.5 percent of the students who began high school four years earlier graduated. By 1998, the percentage had dropped to 77.7 percent.
Some of those students may have taken classes at home or left the state, but that doesn’t account for a significant number.
The Telegram’s figures also show that Maine’s 1998 graduating class lost more than 5 percent of its students each year, on average, for a total loss of 3,878 students.
Figures developed by the state show that 1,870 students dropped out during the same period, an annual dropout rate of about 3 percent. The state generally does not count as dropouts students who leave school to earn alternative degrees, such as general education development diplomas.
Maine determines its dropout rate by counting the number of students schools report as dropouts in grades 9 through 12 each year. But experts say that method misses some children, including some who simply do not alert schools that they are leaving.
“Our dropout data is just wrong,” said Walter McIntire, director of the Center for Research and Evaluation at the University of Maine.
Looking at how many students begin high school but fail to complete it is a better method, according to David Silvernail, director of the Center for Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine.
That is done by counting the number of children in grade nine and seeing how many graduate four years later.
The latter method confirmed a trend officials at Lewiston High School had suspected all along.
Lewiston thought it had an annual dropout rate of 3-4 percent. But a newer study that tracked all of its students from grade nine through to graduation last year told a different story: 25 percent of the students from that class dropped out over the four-year period.
“In the classroom, you could just see [the trend] by your class rolls. Kids weren’t there,” said Tom LeBlond, a social studies teacher at the school.