Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Weslaco East High scratched off ‘dropout factory’ list

Ryan Holeywell | McAllen Monitor
November 19, 2007

WESLACO — A local high school has been removed from a much-publicized list released last month labeling 23 Rio Grande Valley schools as “dropout factories.”

Since the list’s release, 15 schools from across the nation have been retracted, including Weslaco East High School.

The nationwide study, compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers, cited schools with poor retention rates, comparing freshmen enrollment to senior enrollment at the schools.

The study surmised that comparing freshmen enrollment to senior enrollment three years later was a good way of determining whether students were dropping out, since districts count and report dropouts differently. Critics said that method was an oversimplification of the issue.

In fall 2000, Weslaco East High School opened as the district’s campus for freshmen and sophomores, while Weslaco High School housed juniors and seniors.

Two years later, Weslaco East began the transition to a four-year high school, welcoming classes of juniors and seniors, with Weslaco High School taking back some freshmen and sophomores.

The timing of the transition created the appearance that many Weslaco East students had dropped out before reaching their senior year. In actuality, they had just transferred to the other campus.

“Nobody wants that title on your school,” said Weslaco East Principal Sue Peterson. “It’s extremely demoralizing.”

Peterson said the school contacted Johns Hopkins the day the study was released, and the correction was made about a week and a half later.

“I think it was a clear-cut case of it not being on (the list) justly,” said Mary Maushard, spokeswoman for the Center for Social Organization of Schools, which released the study. “That’s not something the researchers could know from just looking at the numbers.”

Maushard said despite the corrections, the study is still overwhelmingly accurate. The subtractions from the list are just a small fraction of the 1,700 schools originally on the list.

Despite Weslaco East’s removal, Peterson said the school doesn’t take the dropout issue lightly.

“We are fully aware that we do not have 100 percent of our students graduating from high school and take full responsibility for this issue,” she said.

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