PORTLAND (AP) – According to a new way of counting, Maine high schoolers are dropping out in higher numbers than previously thought.

The increased tally follows adoption of a uniform reporting system that requires school districts to count as dropouts all students who leave school but go on to receive a degree through adult education.

High schools reported 2.2 percent of students – or 1,839 of the 68,158 students enrolled in grades 9-12 – dropped out during the 2004-2005 school year, compared to the 3.9 percent national average.

Using the new counting method the following year, Maine’s dropout rate doubled. Some 5.4 percent – 3,337 of the 61,593 students enrolled in the state’s public high schools during 2005-2006 – dropped out, according to the latest figures reported by the state Department of Education.

Prior to the change, school districts in Maine used different ways to track dropout and graduation rates. Some did not count students as dropouts if they left before graduation but went on to receive diplomas through adult education programs. Others did not include students who passed general-equivalency diploma tests.

Under the new system, school districts must count as dropouts all students who leave the school system without graduating or enrolling in another district, including students who switch to adult education programs or obtain GED certificates.

“This is an attempt to get a true record of students who graduate from high school with a regular diploma,” said Jacqueline Soychak, learning systems team leader at the Maine Department of Education.

But principal Deborah Mitchell of Massabesic High School in Waterboro, where 90 of the school’s 1,150 students left school in 2005-2006 for a rate of 7.8 percent, said she does not regard those students as dropouts.

“I have to recognize there are kids who have a life outside of school that doesn’t always mesh with my goals for them,” she said.

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-03-30-08 1117EDT

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