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Urban 8th-Graders In Mass. Face High Dropout Risk

A new education "early warning system" shows that 36 percent of eighth graders in Massachusetts urban public schools are at risk of dropping out of high school.

The state Education Department used a new system for measuring students' likelihood of dropping out by looking at factors including low MCAS scores, high absenteeism and suspensions.

"It is alarming to see the number of students who are at risk of dropping out," says Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. "It is tempered by the fact that with each of the last three years we've done a better job seeing students to graduation, and in fact, our dropout rates are at the lowest level they've been in a couple of decades."

The state's overall dropout rate has fallen to the lowest point in two decades, but every year 10,000 high school students across the state still leave school without graduating.

Neil Sullivan, of the Boston Private Industry Council, says it's an invisible crisis.

"We do need to do something about it, and it's going to require skillful strategies that address the non-academic barriers to learning, not just learning style in the classroom," Sullivan says.

But Sullivan says the early warning system has proven successful in Boston.

"The dropout number in Boston has dropped from almost 1,900 four years ago to just over 1,300 last school year," he says.

This is the first time the state has compiled this type of early warning index for all schools in the hopes teachers will respond with extra help for these students.

The system found that about 7,700 urban students are at risk. The rate at suburban and rural districts was 8 percent.

Education experts say districts and parents should respond with tutoring, mentoring or other assistance.

This program aired on November 29, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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