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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by Contract/Grant No. R305U960001-98A between the National Academy of Sciences and U.S. Department of Education. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
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Copyright 2001 by the National Academy of Sciences . All rights reserved. SUGGESTED CITATION: National Research Council (2001) Understanding Dropouts: Statistics, Strategies, and High-Stakes Testing. Committee on Educational Excellence and Testing Equity. Alexandra Beatty, Ulric Neisser, William T. Trent, and Jay P. Heubert, Editors. Board on Testing and Assessment, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Institute of Medicine
National Research Council
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Wm. A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. Wm. A. Wulf are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.
COMMITTEE ON EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE AND TESTING EQUITY 2000-2001
ULRIC NEISSER (Cochair), Department of Psychology, Cornell University
WILLIAM T. TRENT (Cochair), Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
ARTHUR COLEMAN, Nixon Peabody, LLP, Washington, DC
KENJI HAKUTA, Department of Education, Stanford University
JAY P. HEUBERT, Teachers College, Columbia University
EUGENE G. JOHNSON, American Institutes for Research, Washington, DC
JAMES A. KADAMUS, Office of Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education, New York State Department of Education
DIANA LAM, Providence School Department, Providence, Rhode Island
HENRY M. LEVIN, Teachers College, Columbia University
DIANA C. PULLIN, Lynch School of Education, Boston College
BELLA H. ROSENBERG, American Federation of Teachers, Washington, DC
THEODORE M. SHAW, NAACP–Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., New York
JOHN P. TOBIN, Siemens Corporation (retired), New York
JULIE UNDERWOOD, National School Boards Association, Alexandria, Virginia
HERBERT J. WALBERG, * College of Education and Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, Chicago
* Did not participate in workshop or deliberations for this report
ALEXANDRA BEATTY, Study Director
ANDREW E. TOMPKINS, Senior Project Assistant
BOARD ON TESTING AND ASSESSMENT
EVA L. BAKER (Chair), Director, Center for the Study of Evaluation, University of California, Los Angeles
RICHARD C. ATKINSON, President, University of California
CHRISTOPHER F. EDLEY, JR., Harvard Law School
RONALD FERGUSON, John F. Kennedy School of Public Policy, Harvard University
MILTON D. HAKEL, Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State University
ROBERT M. HAUSER, Institute for Research on Poverty, Center for Demography, University of Wisconsin, Madison
PAUL W. HOLLAND, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey
DANIEL M. KORETZ, RAND Corporation, Arlington, Virginia
RICHARD J. LIGHT, Graduate School of Education and John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
LORRAINE MCDONNELL, Departments of Political Science and Education, University of California, Santa Barbara
BARBARA MEANS, SRI International, Menlo Park, California
ANDREW C. PORTER, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin, Madison
LORETTA A. SHEPARD, School of Education, University of Colorado, Boulder
CATHERINE E. SNOW, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
WILLIAM L. TAYLOR, Attorney at Law, Washington, D.C.
WILLIAM T. TRENT, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
GUADALUPE M. VALDES, School of Education, Stanford University
VICKI VANDAVEER, The Vandaveer Group, Inc., Houston, Texas
LAURESS L. WISE, Human Resources Research Organization, Alexandria, Virginia
KENNETH I. WOLPIN, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania
PASQUALE J. DEVITO, Director
LISA D. ALSTON, Administrative Associate
The Committee on Educational Excellence and Testing Equity (CEETE) was formed in 1999 to monitor the effects of standards-based reform on students already at risk for academic failure because of such factors as poverty, lack of proficiency in English, disability, or membership in population subgroups that have been educationally disadvantaged. The committee operates under the aegis of the Board on Testing and Assessment. As a standing committee, CEETE is charged with providing ongoing attention to the specific ways in which educational testing can affect disadvantaged students. CEETE considers focused, topical issues and produces brief syntheses of research, with particular attention to the needs of policy makers at the local, state, and federal levels. By setting both research findings and policy questions in context and, when appropriate, making recommendations, CEETE hopes to serve as a resource for those who must make difficult decisions about students' lives in a fast-paced policy context.
CEETE's first report addressed the challenges of testing English-language learners in ways that are both valid and fair (National Research Council, 2000). In the current report, the committee addresses research and policy questions about students who drop out of school and the role testing may play in their decisions about their schooling. The students about whom the committee is concerned are, for a variety of reasons, more likely than others to drop out of school and have been so for decades. Increasing rates of school completion—and decreasing the gaps in the rates for different
groups—are among the goals for education reform, and tests are playing an increasingly significant role in these reform efforts across the country. As more states turn to testing as a means of determining which students will graduate from their systems, the committee was concerned about the potential effects of tests on the rates at which students drop out of school.
A central component of CEETE's charge is to follow up on the 1999 report of the National Research Council's Committee on Appropriate Test Use, High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation. That book offers a number of important findings and recommendations regarding testing, dropouts, and related issues, and this report offers the results of CEETE's further exploration of the issues related to dropouts.
In exploring the available evidence and planning a workshop on the topic, which was held in July 2000, the committee soon found that understanding why students drop out of school, understanding the statistical patterns that characterize school attendance and school leaving—and even obtaining a clear sense of how many students drop out and precisely what it means to drop out of school—were far from straightforward tasks. The committee realized that its task would require not only reviewing available data that might link school completion patterns to exit examination policies, but also setting that discussion in the context of the history of secondary schooling in the United States, exploring the complexities of collecting data about student behavior, and considering research on other aspects of the issue. The report that has resulted from these efforts has three goals: to set current policy discussions in the context of research on dropouts, to offer the committee's synthesis of key research findings, and to offer the committee's recommendations about the ways in which dropout behavior is monitored.
The committee commissioned five papers for presentation at the workshop. This report relies heavily on the work of their authors: John Bishop, Ferran Mane, and Michael Bishop; Sherman Dorn; Mark Dynarski; Phillip Kaufman; Russell Rumberger; and Richard Valencia. Several other experts made valuable contributions as well: Anne Smisko and Robert Meyer made presentations at the workshop, and three scholars with significant relevant expertise, Robert Hauser, David Grissmer, and Aaron Pallas, provided syntheses that were very helpful to the committee's thinking. The committee is indebted to these individuals and to the other workshop participants, who provided a very stimulating exchange of ideas at the workshop.
We also take special note of the efforts of several committee members who took particular responsibility for developing this report—Jay Heubert,
Hank Levin, and John Tobin— and of study director Alix Beatty's work in organizing the workshop and drafting this report. Andrew Tompkins' able assistance with both is gratefully acknowledged as well.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the National Research Council (NRC). The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making the published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report: Susan A. Agruso, Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, North Carolina; Christopher T. Cross, Council for Basic Education; James Karon, Rhode Island Department of Education; Lorraine McDonnell, University of California, Santa Barbara; Bob Rossi, iBuildCommunity.com, Los Altos, California; Fritz Scheuren, Urban Institute; Ewart A. C. Thomas, Stanford University.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by John C. Bailar, University of Chicago. Appointed by the National Research Council, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring panel and the institution.
Ulric Neisser and William Trent, Cochairs
Committee on Educational Excellence and Testing Equity