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Analysis finds 10 Indiana 'dropout factories'

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Indianapolis - Indiana has 10 high schools where so many students leave before their senior year that the schools are considered "dropout factories" in a national analysis.

The schools are among about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide where 60 percent or less of the students who enter high school make it to their senior year, according to the analysis conducted by Johns Hopkins University for The Associated Press.

The Indiana Department of Education, unlike agencies many other states, tracks individual students using unique testing numbers. So its graduation rates - which account for students who transfer to other Indiana schools or are held back a year - might be a more accurate reflection of how many students stay in school, according to the agency.

Still, many of the Indiana schools tagged by Johns Hopkins researcher Robert Balfanz as "dropout factories" in the review of three consecutive high school classes also have poor graduation rates.

At Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, for example, researchers said an average of just 22 percent of the students who entered high school were still there during their senior year. The state, however, says the school has a 44 percent graduation rate. Neither measure paints a rosy picture of the school.

Arsenal Tech is representative of many schools on the researchers' list, which is made up mostly of schools with many poor, minority students from urban areas in Indianapolis, East Chicago, Gary and Richmond.

Students likely to drop out tend to enter school lagging behind, said Jason Bearce, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education.

"It's a challenge to get them caught up with their peers and keep them there," he said.

Students who make it through elementary and middle school may struggle with the changes that come with high school. If they fail a class, they have to make it up or they will be short credits to graduate. Enough missed classes and a student may feel like there's no point in continuing high school.

The downward spiral is difficult to overcome in districts that have few resources for tutoring and remediation, said Lowell Rose, a consultant with the Indiana Urban Schools Association.

And parents in poor, urban areas may be busy working to provide basic needs, such as food and housing, for their children. They may not have the time or educational background to help with homework or stress the importance of school. Rose says students from these homes often lack what he calls the "culture of learning."

"They didn't have it in middle school," Rose said. "They didn't have it in elementary school. Once they get into high school, they can't keep their heads above water."

Indiana legislators have raised the dropout age to 18 and provided students more options for earning a diploma in an effort to improve graduation rates. Advocates say the recent expansion of full-day kindergarten will give students a solid educational foundation while helping struggling students catch up with their peers.

School districts are also trying new approaches. Indianapolis Public Schools students who disrupt classes or have behavior problems can attend school during evenings and on Saturdays so they continue earning credits without causing problems for other students, district spokeswoman Kim Hooper said.

"Most of the disciplinary problems usually lead to suspensions and expulsions, and that's the gateway to kids dropping out," she said. "We want to keep them in school and focused on learning."

School administrators agonize over students who drop out, Rose said. Sometimes principals can persuade students to stay in high school for a few more years to earn their diploma, or push them toward other alternatives, like adult education or vocational options.

Students who pursue those options don't count toward a school's graduation rate, but it may make help a dropout lead a better life.

"Some say that's giving up on kids," Rose said. "I regard it as just being realistic about what's going to happen to these kids."

The following Indiana schools were identified by Johns Hopkins University researchers as "dropout factories" because no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year:

Arsenal Technical High School, Indianapolis: 22 percent promoted, 44 percent graduation rate.

Manual High School, Indianapolis: 24 percent promoted, 48 percent graduation rate.

Arlington High School, Indianapolis: 26 percent promoted, 52 percent graduation rate.

Northwest High School, Indianapolis: 29 percent promoted, 54 percent graduation rate.

Broad Ripple High School, Indianapolis: 34 percent promoted, 72 percent graduation rate.

Richmond High School, Richmond: 53 percent promoted, 54 percent graduation rate.

Roosevelt High School, Gary: 58 percent promoted, 42 percent graduation rate.

Perry Meridian High School, Indianapolis: 59 percent promoted, 74 percent graduation rate.

Wallace High School, Gary: 60 percent promoted, 47 percent graduation rate.

East Chicago Central High School, East Chicago: 60 percent promoted, 62 percent graduation rate.