Research shows

High school dropouts are not all alike

Researchers have historically treated high school dropouts as one homogeneous group when comparing them to students who graduate on time. But a new study identifies three distinct types of dropouts — the quiet students, the jaded and the involved.

For their research published in the Journal for Students Placed at Risk, authors Alex J. Bowers of Teachers College at Columbia University and Ryan Sprott of the University of Texas at San Antonio examined a nationally representative data set for more than 15,000 students. They found that quiet students make up the majority of dropouts, representing 52.7 percent nationally. These students have fairly low test scores and grades, fall behind in accumulating course credits and frequently fail to do their homework. They tend to participate in about one hour per week of extracurricular activities, spend about three hours per week reading outside of school and miss school about twice a semester on average.

Jaded students represent 38 percent of dropouts. Of the three types, this group has the lowest test scores, grades and number of accumulated credits. They also have the greatest number of incompletes on homework, absences, suspensions and disciplinary problems, and do the least amount of outside reading and extracurricular activities.

Involved students, who account for 9.3 percent of dropouts nationally, tend to be slightly younger than jaded students and about the same age as quiet students. They, like the other types, have low test scores and grades. But they spend more time reading outside of school and participating in extracurricular activities than the others.

Dropouts also vary in their attitudes toward school. Jaded students were the most disgruntled of the three types, saying that they did not like school; teachers didn’t like them; school rules were applied unfairly; and their courses were uninteresting. In contrast, among quiet and involved students, about 70 percent said they liked school and thought that teachers cared about them and school rules were reasonable.

One thing uniting the different types of dropouts is that when surveyed by the researchers four years after leaving school, all said they were motivated to finish high school at some point.

The researchers conclude that the differences among dropouts show that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Quiet students may need academic tutoring and more connections to school to increase grades and reduce absences. Jaded students may need help in developing positive connections to school to counteract their negativity. And involved students may need flexible schedules or alternative routes to graduation.

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