An extensive survey by the Salt Lake School District shows that the dropout rate is nowhere near the 20 percent to 25 percent widely quoted by education critics.

The total number of dropouts in grades 7 to 12 is 860, or 8.95 percent, from October 1989 to October 1990, reports the survey released to the Salt Lake Board of Education Tuesday night."What we've got is serious, losing 860 kids in one year. That's a serious concern. But we're still doing pretty well. The numbers don't come up to the 25 percent that you hear passed around all the time," Nancy G. Hardy, coordinator of pupil services, told the Deseret News.

This year's figure is just slightly higher than the 8.8 percent calculated by the district last year. It also confirms that last year's number wasn't a fluke, Hardy said.

The district official pronounced the Salt Lake number as perhaps the most definitive in the state. Trackers working with school records went door to door, looking for secondary students such as those who failed to return to school or those who had said that they were moving but no new school sent for the student records.

Trackers found a number of students who had been listed as dropouts were actually enrolled in private schools, she said.

Salt Lake is one of five Utah school districts participating in a national field test to determine a standard dropout definition and uniform policies and procedures to collect dropout data.

In the past, many educators regarded national dropout statistics as inconclusive because of the wide variety of reporting methods and definitions. Nationally, many dropout rates were calculated by subtracting the number of high school graduates from the ninth-grade enrollment without taking into account such factors as move-outs, private-school transfers or early graduations.

Hardy said she doubts that any other Utah school district will have a dropout rate substantially higher than Salt Lake's. Urban school districts, with a larger percentage of inner-city schools and students with limited English proficiency, usually possess higher dropout rates than suburban or rural districts.

Urban Ogden School District, which is also participating in the study, has a rate comparable to Salt Lake's, she said.

After gathering the dropout numbers, district official Greg Steed interviewed 80 of the dropouts, asking their reasons for leaving school. (See box.)

Hardy said the district hopes to use the information to develop programs that keep students in school or bring them back to the classroom after dropping out.

The survey itself prompted several students to return to school. Steed had seven students who were contacted during the survey call back and asked to be reinstated in school. Hardy was also asked by several of the survey students about being reinstated this week.

Getting dropouts to return to school may be "as simple as a caring telephone call," Hardy said.


Leaving school

The most common reasons that 80 Salt Lake dropouts gave for leaving school:

- Absenteeism

- Boredom

- Did not know

- Expelled

- Had to work

- Pregnancy

- Failing grades

- Preferred work to school

- School too far away

- Teachers did not care

- No one helped

- Peers dropped out

- Nothing/don't know

- More leniency and understanding from school personnel

- Changing schools

- More individual assistance with academic work

- Improved teaching

- Different school hours (not so early in morning)

- Independent study at school

- Having friends there