About three fifths of the more than 2,000 students who dropped out of Montgomery County Public Schools over the past three years were Latino, according to data provided by MCPS.
Since the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, 2,151 MCPS students have stopped attending school and 1,335 of them were Latino, according to MCPS data.
MCPS data shows students who are minorities and do not speak English as their first language were the most likely to drop out. About half of the students who dropped out of school during the 2017-18 school year were English language learners and about 35% were students eligible for free and reduced-price meals.
Superintendent Jack Smith told Bethesda Beat that the data is concerning and the school district should continue work to implement more “alternative pathway” programs for students with interrupted education or who enter the school system knowing little or no English.
“The disparities that exist by demographic group are critically important for us to look at on a regular basis, but the work we do is with each individual student, not based on their race, but based on their situation,” Smith said. “If they’re headed off to college or have a good career pathway or both, all we do is support them and cheer them on. If they’re struggling to get their credits, we continue to develop ways to reach out and connect with them. ”
Concerns about the school system’s dropout rate surfaced at a school board meeting in July where the data was presented. School board members vowed to continue exploring how to address the issue, from ramping up efforts to ensure students can read at grade level to having students repeat a grade if they do not meet academic expectations.
“What we are hearing and seeing today is not something we can ignore,” school board member Karla Silvestre said during the meeting.
About 6% of each of the past three years’ graduating class dropped out, data obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request shows.
Of the students who dropped out in the 2017-18 school year, 53% started their education with MCPS in high school and credited the decision to a “lack of interest,” according to MCPS data. About 27% had “unknown whereabouts” and six percent left to pursue employment opportunities.
In both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, about 70% of students dropped out due to a lack of interest and 16% had unknown whereabouts.
Smith said it’s important to acknowledge students are legally allowed to remain in the school system until they are 21 years old, even though the “traditional” pathway is to graduate high school in four years.
“We want to make that clear. You are wanted and you belong here for as long as you want to be here to get value out of this experience,” Smith said. “That’s been a big shift in public education, and it’s a philosophical change that needs to be supported by actions.”
Along with dropout data, MCPS officials have voiced concern about student absences.
About 18.5% of all MCPS students — or 28,000 students — in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent data available, were chronically absent, meaning they missed 15 or more days of school in the academic year.
MCPS staff members said students who are consistently absent are more likely to drop out. Students reported missing class because they were not proficient in reading and math; have family responsibilities, such as caring for siblings; and have difficult transitions from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org