IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Dropout rates: Measuring high school non-completion

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

High school dropouts face increasingly high rates of unemployment and low annual earnings. Therefore, it is important to have an accurate representation of the number of high school dropouts in the U.S.


Median annual earnings of full-time year-round wage and salary workers ages 25-34, by educational attainment: 2013

Figure. Median annual earnings of full-time year-round workers ages 25-34, by educational attainment: 2013

1 Total represents median annual earnings of all full-time year-round wage and salary workers ages 25–34.
2 Total represents median annual earnings of young adults with a bachelor's degree or higher.
NOTE: Full-time year-round workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks per year.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 502.30.


There are several different ways to measure the number and percentage of high school dropouts. The status dropout rate measures the percentage of individuals who are not in school and have not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential. The Condition of Education uses the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) to provide an annual update on the percentage of 16- through 24-year-olds who meet these criteria.

Another way of looking at high school non-completion is to examine the event dropout rate. This rate estimates the percentage of high school students who left high school between the beginning of one school year and the beginning of the next without earning a high school diploma or alternative credential. While the definition of dropout is similar in both these measures, the populations are different. The event dropout rate only includes students who left high school over the course of a given year whereas the status dropout rate can include those who dropped out over many years and who may not have attended high school at all. The event dropout rate can be calculated from the CPS or from data reported by state education agencies to NCES through the CCD collection.

As an example of how these rates can differ, the CCD event dropout rate from October 2011 to October 2012 was 3.4 percent, while the 2012 CPS status dropout rate was 6.6 percent for 16- to 24-year-olds. The broader age range and related time period captured in the status dropout rate captures a larger percentage of high school non-completers. Both rates are important because they offer different types of information about high school dropouts. However, they can also offer complementary information. For example, both the event dropout rate and the status dropout rate have declined since the 90s.

See Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States for more information on current dropout statistics. 

Adding Knowledge, Subtracting Student Challenges: The Math Cognition and Learning Conferences

By Rob Ochsendorf (NCSER Program Officer), Joan McLaughlin (NSCER Commissioner), and Liz Berke (NCSER Intern) 


How would you solve this problem?  7 + 25 – 23 = ___.  Skilled math students recognize key features of problems and use appropriate shortcuts when solving problems but recent research led by Dr. Katherine Robinson has shown that less than a third of 7th graders actually used shortcut strategies.  Dr. Robinson noted that, “These students show strong preferences for using well-practiced rote strategies for solving these problems rather than thinking deeply and flexibly about either the problems or how they can use their knowledge of arithmetic to facilitate problem solving.”  


During May of this year, Dr. Robinson and other researchers from across the world convened in St. Louis, Missouri to share findings in the growing area of research known as math cognition. This two-day conference entitled, “Typical and Atypical Learning of Complex Arithmetic Skills and Higher-Order Mathematics Concepts,” is part of a series of five annual conferences, Math Cognition and Learning Conferences  (MCALC), funded by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) with additional support from NCSER.  

Dr.  Joan McLaughlin, NCSER Commissioner, and Dr. Rob Ochsendorf attended MCALC this year and highlighted the importance of math cognition research to support students with or at risk for disabilities in their math learning.  NCSER funds a number of projects in this area, including a National Research and Development Center focused on understanding the cognitive processes involved in the development of fraction skills in elementary school children.  NCSER has taken an interest in the MCALC mission from the beginning and continues to support graduate students’ attendance and participation each year.  

 

At the conclusion of this year’s meeting, NCSER staff talked with lead investigators Dan Berch (University of Virginia) and David Geary (University of Missouri) to discuss the MCALC meetings and activities, which have included the founding of a new international society for math cognition (Mathematical Cognition and Learning) and an edited book series, in addition to the annual meetings.  


What do you think were the key takeaways from the 2015 MCALC meeting? 

The conferences really have two important, interrelated goals.  The first is social - to help researchers, especially the younger ones, develop connections with and discuss their ideas and current research with each other and senior members of the field.  This networking is important for building collaborations and for finding links between different areas of mathematical cognition and learning. The second is to more fully understand mathematical learning and cognition. The focus at this meeting on individual differences highlighted the importance of domain-general and math-specific knowledge in fostering both procedural and conceptual aspects of mathematical development, and provided directions for intervention with struggling students. 

What are the important long term contributions of this series of meetings? 

The long-term goal of the meetings and the new society is to bring together people with a shared interest in quantitative processing and development that might otherwise not be aware of one another's work, much less discuss it one-on-one. The 5-volume series coming out of the meetings is important as well.  We hope that these will provide a critical and useful reference work that highlights cutting edge advances across the whole field, from number processing in nonhumans to educational interventions.

Are there issues that you would like the IES research community to be aware of in terms of these meetings and these developments?  

I'd like to see more IES researchers entering the field. There is a clear need to better understand and foster students' mathematical development and there is now a thriving research community and literature base that makes this an exciting and rewarding field to be a part of. 


Two more MCALC meetings will be held in 2016 and 2017.  


May, 2016 - The Role of Linguistic, Cultural, SES, and Parenting Factors in Mathematical Cognitive Development  


May, 2017 - Improving Mathematical Learning: How Neurobiological, Cognitive, and Developmental Approaches Can Inform the Design of Effective Instructional Interventions 

 

If you are interested in attending one of these upcoming meetings, please contact Dr. Dan Berch.  

Other questions? Comments? Please contact us at IESResearch@ed.gov.

This Father's Day, Let’s Celebrate Fathers of Children with Disabilities

By Amy Sussman, NCSER Program Officer

When researchers study the impact of families on children, they usually investigate the role of mothers on their typically developing children. In an era when fathers are participating in child care responsibilities more than ever before, it should be no surprise that they also have a strong influence on their children’s education and development. Dr. Brent McBride of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been examining the role of fathers for over 30 years, carrying out both basic and applied research to inform and guide the development of initiatives aimed at supporting men in their efforts to parent young children. His more recent work on fathers investigates the impact of fathers of children with disabilities and/or developmental delays. Through a grant funded by the Institute's National Center for Special Education Research, Dr. McBride has been exploring data available from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Birth Cohort to investigate the roles fathers play in families of children with disabilities, a challenging parenting context. I recently asked him to describe how his interest in this subject emerged and to share some of his findings and their implications.

How did you become interested in studying fathers’ parenting of children with disabilities?

While working closely with one of my colleagues in special education, Rosa (Amy) Santos, we realized that we have several parallel and complementary research interests and began exploring ways in which our mutual interests could be merged. I was aware of the growing body of research that first emerged in the 1970s suggesting that active father involvement can lead to positive outcomes for both children and families. Although this literature is rich and diverse, the majority of the research has been with fathers in families of typically developing children. Little is known about father involvement in families of children with disabilities. Even less is known about the ways in which early intervention (EI) service providers and early childhood special educators reach out and support the unique needs of fathers. My work with Dr. Santos has been focused on using an interdisciplinary perspective to address this gap in the research.

What are some of your findings on how father involvement impacts children with disabilities?

Although we have had a number of encouraging and intriguing findings, I will describe just a few of them here. The first one is related to the impact of father involvement in routine caregiving, literacy, play, and responsive caregiving activities on maternal and family functioning. Our findings suggest that over time, when fathers are responsive to the needs of their children with autism spectrum disorder and related disabilities and engage in literacy activities with them, mothers experiences less stress and fewer depressive symptoms. This is important because maternal stress and depression have been found in previous research to be significant predicators of lower quality parenting by mothers of children with disabilities. We also examined the impact of early father involvement on children’s school readiness upon kindergarten entry for those who have disabilities or developmental delays but are not placed in self-contained special education classrooms. Results were mixed. For example, fathers’ play involvement at 9 months was negatively related to cognitive functioning but positively related to sociability and fewer behavior problems upon kindergarten entry. These analyses raised several intriguing questions that warrant further investigation. Another part of our investigation built upon previous research indicating that fathers are noticeably absent from EI services in spite of emerging evidence suggesting they can have a positive impact on child and family functioning. In an attempt to explore these barriers, our team analyzed data from EI service providers suggesting that inflexible schedules represent the most salient barrier, with expectations related to gender roles, father’s perceptions of EI services, and EI providers’ limited ability to adapt as additional barriers. Although EI providers believed that fathers could have a positive impact on their children’s development, they were less confident that efforts to target fathers would enhance EI services.

Do these results have any real-world implications for enhancing the development or school readiness of these children?

Most of the findings to emerge from our research program have clear implications for ways to enhance the school readiness of children with disabilities and/or developmental delays. For examples, findings have highlighted fathers’ engagement in early parenting activities such as responsive caregiving, play, reading to children, and routine caregiving has the potential to positively impact later child outcomes and family functioning. They also provide targets that EI service providers may want to focus on as they explore ways to help better prepare fathers to meet the needs of their children with disabilities. Findings on the disconnect between EI providers’ beliefs about father involvement and their actual practices when providing services suggest that they could benefit from training to more effectively include fathers in the services they provide to children and families.

Does your work have any implications for future research on this topic?

The next step in our program of research will be to use the lessons learned to date from our findings to guide the development, implementation and evaluation of an intervention program aimed at providing EI service providers with the basic foundation for developing the understanding, knowledge base and skill set needed to more fully engage fathers in the receipt of EI services, thus improving child functioning and outcomes. Doing so will be an important first step in moving EI from mother centered to truly “family centered.”

 

Questions? Comments? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov

Challenges in Transition to Adulthood for Individuals with Autism

An Interview with Researcher Leann Smith

Conducted by Kim Sprague, NCSER Program Officer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 68 children have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. While the National Center of Special Education (NCSER) supports research on ASD through their grants program, few projects have focused on the needs of adolescents and young adults with ASD as they transition out of school. To address this pressing need, NCSER funded the Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (CSESA) in 2012. The focus of this Center is to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a comprehensive, school-based intervention for secondary students with ASD. The intervention, referred to as the CSESA model, builds on school and student strengths and incorporates evidence-based practices and strategies in order to help students succeed in high school and prepare them for life after high school.

I spoke with Leann Smith, an investigator at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, whose research focuses on adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder and their families. She is also a researcher on the CSESA project.

What are the key challenges for individuals with autism as they transition into adulthood?

As individuals with ASD transition into adulthood, they face many challenges. Importantly, ASD is a spectrum disorder, meaning that the behavioral profile is highly variable and includes a range of severity across multiple dimensions. Research shows that even though there is some abatement of symptoms as children grow into adults, significant limitations still persist and impact a range of outcomes.

After exiting high school, there is often a significant loss of services for these individuals, including access to insurance. Many families describe the experience of leaving high school as “falling off a cliff.” In the absence of appropriate services and supports, young adults with ASD may struggle in finding employment and maintaining social connections after they leave high school. Research shows that, compared to individuals with other disabilities, individuals with ASD are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. This is true for those with and without an intellectual disability in addition to ASD. Given the increasing number of individuals with ASD who are moving into adulthood, we know we will need new, research-based interventions to better serve individuals on the spectrum during this transitional period and beyond.

What is your role in the CSESA development and research project? 

Currently we are implementing a randomized control trial of the comprehensive CSESA model in 60 high schools across the country. As an investigator on the project, I am leading CSESA efforts with the 20 Wisconsin schools that are participating in the study. The goal of the CSESA model is to provide high quality professional development and evidence-based interventions to support educators, families, and students during the high school years. Our role has focused on adapting a school-based version of an education and support program for families called Transitioning Together for inclusion as a component of the CSESA model. We originally developed the 8-week Transitioning Together curriculum for implementation in clinical settings but adapted it so it can be used in high school settings.

What can be done to promote successful transition into adulthood?

When you look at early intervention for autism, there are a lot of different models, and we have a pretty good sense of evidence-based practices for young children with autism. There isn’t anything analogous to that for youth and adults. In supporting individuals with ASD, we need services to start as early as possible, and provide more intensive services than what is currently offered in many middle and high schools. Ideally, we would sequence the appropriate support over time and at each developmental phase, starting with early intervention, moving into school, and then meeting the needs of adolescents and adults in school and community settings. However, there is a definite lack of support for individuals with ASD who are facing the challenges of adulthood at this time. The CSESA model provides support that is needed earlier, prior to their transition to promote successful outcomes. For those who are interested in learning more, we currently have multiple resources for professionals and families available on the CSESA website including free professional development curriculum created in collaboration with the Organization for Autism Research as well as guides about evidence-based practices. There is also an “Autism At A Glance” series which highlights strategies for supporting high schools students on a wide range of topics such as functional communication and exercise.   

We are now recruiting participants to test an intervention focused on reducing stress for young adults with autism and their families. The hope is that stress reduction will help the young people take on adult roles. Reducing stress and emotional intensity has a stabilizing effect, which can help people be more empowered and able to maintain a job. Among other things, participants will rehearse problem-solving steps and learn a coping strategy that can help reduce stress: reinterpreting challenges or difficult events as opportunities for growth. Even if you can’t change the stressor, you can change how you think about it.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Leann Smith and other researchers were interviewed in this recent Washington Post article on supporting adults with ASD.

Comments or questions for IES? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov.  

Children’s approaches to learning and academic achievement in the early grades

By Grace Kena

Children’s skills early in school are of interest to educators and policy makers due, in part, to their association with school achievement in the later grades. NCES assesses children’s knowledge and measures their skills through data collections such as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011).

This study collected information from a sample of students at kindergarten entry as well as from their parents and their teachers, and will continue to follow the students through the early elementary grades. Through the ECLS-K:2011, NCES conducted direct assessments and gathered information related to other aspects of students’ development, including socioemotional development and approaches to learning. As part of the study, students’ teachers were asked to report on how the kindergartners approached learning by examining and reporting on seven behaviors: paying attention, persisting in completing tasks, showing eagerness to learn new things, working independently, adapting easily to changes in routine, keeping belongings organized, and following classroom rules.

Findings from The Condition of Education 2015 show that first-time kindergartners who demonstrated these positive learning behaviors “very often” in the fall of kindergarten had higher average reading and mathematics assessment scores than kindergartners who demonstrated these behaviors less often. First-time kindergartners who “never” exhibited the seven approaches to learning behaviors in the fall of kindergarten not only scored lower in reading and mathematics in the fall than children who had more positive learning approaches, but they continued to score lower than the other groups when the children were assessed again in the spring of their kindergarten year and in the spring of their first grade year.


Average mathematics scale scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by frequency of positive approaches to learning behaviors in fall of kindergarten year: Fall 2010, spring 2011, and spring 2012

Figure. Average mathematics scale scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by frequency of positive approaches to learning behaviors in fall of kindergarten year: Fall 2010, spring 2011, and spring 2012

NOTE: Possible scores for the mathematics assessments range from 0 to 96. Frequency of positive approaches to learning behaviors is derived from kindergartners' fall 2010 Approaches to Learning scale scores.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, ECLS-K:2011. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 220.40.


As an example of these differences, the average fall kindergarten mathematics score for students who “very often” showed positive learning behaviors was 36 points, compared to 18 points for children who “never” demonstrated positive learning behaviors. When measured again in the spring of the kindergarten year, the average mathematics score for children who had “never” demonstrated positive learning behaviors at the beginning of the kindergarten year (29 points) remained below the fall average score for those children who had exhibited positive approaches to learning “very often.”

For more information on approaches to learning and kindergarten and first grade achievement, including breakdowns for children of different demographic groups, see the spotlight on this topic in The Condition of Education 2015, or watch the video below.