Nov 14 2007
08:10 am
By: WhitesCreek

Roane County has two schools that got labelled "dropout factories" by a recent Johns Hopkins study. That is a harsh assessment and was immediately denied by several School officials.

"Bad Numbers," they said.

One of our School Board members whose numbers I trust totally said,

(Earl) Nall said he analyzed enrollment data he gets from the state and found that both Midway and Rockwood fit the category of having a 12th grade class that was 40 percent lower than the freshmen class...

The Roane County News article then said that in the past four years only 11 students dropped out of Midway and 14 dropped out of Rockwood.


OK...add 39 GED's and you're still missing hundreds of students. I'm guessing they didn't get beamed up by Kucinich's UFO, people...I'm thinking we need to quit fudging and face up. You can't fix a problem you won't own up to.

The Roane County School system turns out some great students who do really well at the highest levels at Colleges and Universities. But we are letting hundreds of others fall through the cracks each year.

Do we ignore that fact? Hide that fact? or Face that fact?

Pick one.

Just the facts

How about we simply get the student numbers by grade level for each of the High Schools in question over the last four years.

Then let's look at the number of diplomas issued plus the number of GED's.

And sure, we can add in the transfers out as long as we include the transfers in.

What ever else we want to include that we agree is legitimate would be fine. These should be readily available numbers.

One last thing...Finding someone to blame won't fix a danged thing. Let's start being open and honest and don't look back.

We've got children to raise!

numbers and analysis

It would be wonderful if the "raw" numbers and the detailed analysis (as in an Excel spreadsheet, or a dataset and SAS code, or an Access database, or whatever, could be uploaded here or elsewhere on the web. Even just the "raw" numbers and any accompanying descriptions would be great. :)

-- OneTahiti

Numbers Change

Again, I am not here to debate the dropout issues in Roane County or the state. I am aware there is work to be done in this area.

But, I am here to further debate the validity of the numbers that Johns Hopkins used in their analysis.

As pointed our earlier in this thread, I did find that Midway and Rockwood fit the criteria of having 40% less students in 12th grade than the number that started 9th grade - as did 100 other schools in the state. Then I did the same analysis for two years earlier and also found 100 schools in the state that fit that profile. BUT, only 50% of the schools were the same. Therein shows the volatility in the numbers.

What this means is that if JH had run their analysis on data over another time period, our schools may not have been on the list, but other Tennessee schools would.

JH used a three year average in their analysis to smooth the data, which is a common statistical practice. But even using this method, different three year runs of data would yield results each time the analysis was run.

A few percentage points are not the current issue

In the four years I attended my high school, our dropout rate was... 0%. Literally, no students dropped out. Every single person in four classes in a row graduated. If someone had dropped out, I am sure a scandal would have ensued. Dropping out was simply not done, not an option. And this was a very poor rural school, about 1/3 minority, in an area even poorer and more rural than Roane County.

The question for me is not whether our schools are a few points on one side or another of 60%--anything under 90% or 95% seems utterly dismal--but what we can do to get the dropout rate closer to what it should be: 0.

Has anyone surveyed students in the county who dropped out about their reasons for doing so? That would be interesting reading.

Alternatively, if students are going to drop out in high numbers, it might profit us to ask what we can do to make a terminal eighth-grade or tenth-grade education better prepare students for employment and the rest of adult life.

-- OneTahiti

Much better point to focus on, OneT.

What can be done to improve, as you say. I don't necessarily see enemies and villains. Other than over-broad statistical generalizations based on dubious methodologies. We're possibly making a paper tiger out of them.


I accept the Johns Hopkins numbers

I see exactly where they come from but JH is not the enemy here, and is in fact irrelevent. Let's get some good hard information out on the table and work on it.

Where are the students going and why? We are not awarding that many GED's and that many students are not consistantly year after year transferring out of Roane County.

What's up?

Does this post presume...

... that there IS an "enemy?" I hope not.

And to not be in school X's graduating class, they don't have to transfer out of Roane County. They simply have to transfer to school Y inside Roane County, which does happen. Again, when dealing with small populations, a few changes makes the percentage points move quickly.


What are the Correct Rockwood Numbers?

Regardless of whether the John Hopkins study is correct or incorrect, well-designed or poorly-designed, is the following statement from Roane County schools (which was reported in the Roane County News) correct?

"McGriff said the school system tracks individual students, and that over the past four years, only 11 have dropped out at Midway and 14 at Rock-wood."

Is there a definition of "dropped out" other than "did not, within 4 years of enrolling in ninth grade, (A) transfer to another school, (B) receive a GED, (C) pass away, or (D) receive a diploma"? For instance, is there a formal "drop out" procedure that some "drop outs" do, but if you simply stop coming to school and don't follow this procedure you are not considerd a "drop out"?

I agree with Onetahiti that it would be helpful to post the data (deidentified of course) online.

Numbers CAN Lie...

Well accept JH numbers all you want to, but from what I can see of how they get their numbers, I'm not willing to. At least not as necessarily reflective of true dropout rate.

Numbers in freshman class versus graduating seniors. The rest have to be dropouts, they assume. Bull hockey. As if that's the only reason a person starting as a freshman would not graduate.

1) Move to another school to play ball. Graduate from that school. That is NOT an unknown practice in Roane County.
2) Move out of the school district into another districts numbers altogether. That, too is not unknown in Roane County.
3) Die of drug overdose, car wreck, or other tragic circumstances. That, too, sadly, is not unknown in Roane County.

You add those numbers up in an already small school, and you have an inordinate change in percentage based on what are statistical outliers, not really numbers that should be counted. It only takes a few in a small school (e.g. Midway) to affect numbers significantly, or certainly to make them the small amount "off" as we've seen them.

Unless they take into account ALL reasons why a student entering as a freshman might not graduate as a senior, their methodology is flawed and oversimplified. Not worthy of a place like Johns Hopkins.




Please, do you have a copy of the actual JH study? That is something I would want to read before I discussed any details. If you have one or have a full-text link, please let me know. :)

-- OneTahiti

OneT - Unfortunately...

I don't possess that. And that's part of the problem.

I deal in medical statistics and studies all the time. I know how to be skeptical. And absent some real supporting info for the methodologies Johns Hopkins used, I can't say their statistics mean a hill of beans to anybody other than them.

I think we have witnessed, in JH's "study and statistics," a manifestation of Mark Twain's truism:

"Most men use statistics the way a drunkard uses a lamp-post: for support rather than for illumination."




LOL! :) But I can't even say that without looking at the JH study. :( Who knows?

In the meantime, what I would like to do is look at the detailed data from here. :) I'm not really worried about 60% vs 70% or 59%; I'm more concerned with our local Big Picture: (link...)

-- OneTahiti

That's it - WHO knows?

I can't accept it, given Earl's meaningful objections to it (and he knows way more about it than I) when they don't give me enough methodology information.

BUT - big picture HERE is more important, as you say.

And such statistical bally-hoo as the Johns Hopkins study and the headlines it was given don't really help us see that big picture for HERE very well.

I don't think we have enough information to paint from the general of this big study to the specific of Rockwood and Midway definitively.

Me - until shown otherwise, I put more faith in Roane's internal numbers and their tracking. I haven't seen anything in what I've read defending the JH article to convince me otherwise. There's more to it than that.

I can't blame McGriff for being defensive - it's natural. But I don't think we need to be on the offensive with our school people, either - certainly not based on what appears to be a study which, as it was reported, doesn't seem to take into account details which are germane to an accurate assessment.

There shouldn't be any enemies here, and we've seen nothing to indicate the need for a confrontational approach, IMHO.


There's nothing confrontational about asking for the numbers

And frankly, no one has debunked the JH study. Even Earl agrees with their raw numbers. What he seems to disagree with is the resulting characterization and the statistical methodology, and I see his point.

Fact is, that doesn't change a danged thing.

The only thing I'm asking for is the actual data, which should be readily available except that nobody has posted it. It used to be found on the web site and now it's gone.

I would happily put faith in Roane's internal numbers, when and if we get a look at them.

Best case, we don't have one single school meeting the graduation goal, and frankly we have at least two schools that don't even stack up well against inner city predominately low income schools.

The JH study is just the bell. It's up to us to deal with the fire.

Numbers reported to the State

Roane County reports for 2005-6

Total Roane County enrollment (I can't find it by school)

9th 10th 11th 12th

645 673 543 523

So out of 523 students we awarded 364 Diplomas. That's less than 70% of SENIORS graduating system wide and doesn't count the 120-140 students who leave the system between 9th and 12th grades. If you add them back in...Our whole school system awards diplomas to less than 60% of our children.

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