POLK COUNTY -- Most school districts in Polk County saw a decrease in dropout rates last year.
Only 73 students dropped out of county high schools in 2005-06, according to figures released by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) on April 3. Those numbers don't include Salem-Keizer schools in West Salem.
The statewide dropout rate was 4.1 last year, the lowest rate since reporting on the statistic began in 1991.
Oregon defines a dropout as a student in grades 9-12 who withdraws from school without receiving a high school diploma, GED, modified diploma, or transferring to another school. Almost 7,400 students dropped out of school last year.
Twenty-eight of Dallas High School's 1,004 students dropped out in 2005-06, a rate of 2.8 percent and almost 2 percent less than 2004-05.
Central High School's dropout rate, 5.1 percent, was higher than the state average, .6 percent lower than the previous year.
(Central High Principal Sylvia Warren said she may request a record change for that year, because eight students were incorrectly listed as dropouts because of clerical errors.)
"Of course we want it (dropout rate) to be zero, but that's part of the challenge for a school system," Central Superintendent Joseph Hunter said. "How do we come up with a way to learn that meets their needs ... it's something we must continue to work on."
Falls City High School, which had a total enrollment of 69 last year, had no dropouts. Only one student at Perrydale High School dropped out in 2006.
ODE's report included factors influencing dropout rates. Dallas students cited being too far behind in credits to graduate and having to work more than 15 hours a week as reasons for leaving school.
A dysfunctional home life or lack of parental support were among reasons given by Central High dropouts.
"School is only a part of a student's life, and unfortunately, there are always going to be people who at this certain point just don't connect with school," said Cory Bradshaw, director of instructional services for the Dallas district.
"They have other pressures they feel they must attend to."
Bradshaw said the establishment in 1998 of Morrison Charter School, an alternative education program for students who have difficulty functioning in a normal high school environment, has helped alleviate the dropout problem.
None of the school's 151 students dropped out last year, according to ODE.
"If it weren't for Morrison, I'm sure the district's rate would be significantly higher," she said.
Hunter noted that Central has a higher percentage of fifth-year seniors than most districts. Many of them are still pursuing graduation under Individualized Education Plans (IEP).
"They are considered by the state as dropouts," Hunter said. "The state has us listed with 44 dropouts, and they (the IEP students) are embedded in that number.
"We don't agree with reporting numbers that way. Students who need more time to complete their education should be given that time," he continued. "The issue is that have they learned, not how long it's taking."
Statewide, dropout rates for white students decreased from 3.5 percent to 3.3 percent. African American, Hispanic, and Native American students showed dropout rates of 6.4 percent, 8.4 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively. Those figures are up slightly from the previous year.
White and Hispanic students accounted for 59 percent and 33 percent of all dropouts, respectively, in Polk County. Twenty of the county's twenty-four Hispanic dropouts were from Central High.
Fifty-six percent of the county's 73 high school dropouts were male, mirroring the statewide average.
To view the Oregon Department of Education's 2005-06 dropout report, go to the "Reports, data and statistics" section of the Department of Education web site, www.ode.state.or.us.