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In nick of time, city drops data on students who didn't graduate

Minutes after the close of business hours today — a summer Friday already packed with education news — the city released the first set of required reports about students who left middle school and high school last year without graduating.

Some students leave their schools for good reasons, such as when their families leave the city. But others are dropping out.

In 2011, an audit by the state comptroller found evidence that the city might have underreported its dropout rate by classifying many dropouts as “discharges,” the term for students who have provided good reasons for leaving school and evidence to support their explanations. The audit followed a 2009 report by a researcher and an advocate that suggested that the city was increasingly exploiting the reporting loophole to inflate the graduation rate.

Alarmed by the reports, the City Council took up the cause and a year ago passed a local law requiring the Department of Education to report annually on how many students leave school and why. The first reports were due today.

The reports are broken down by school; the students’ ages, grades, race, and whether they are English language learners or have a disability; and by the code used to identify their reason for leaving school.

We’ll take a closer look at the reports’ contents next week, when it isn’t 7 p.m. on a Friday. Until then, full sets of required discharge data can be found here on the Department of Education’s website.

One interesting tidbit: The number of students discharged to other schools from the cohort that entered high school in 2007 was the lowest since the city started reporting discharge data in 1996, according to the department. The drop-off aligns with both increases in the city’s graduation rate and new reporting requirements that schools say have made it more difficult to prove that a student has in fact enrolled elsewhere.

Department officials caution that the data released today is less useful than other information available about schools’ dropout rates because the reports look at all students enrolled in a school at a given moment, rather than at a group of students according to the year they entered school.

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