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DES MOINES — The number of high school dropouts in Iowa climbed by 23 percent last year, according to a report released Thursday.
The Iowa Department of Education said 4,438 students dropped out during the 2007-2008 school year, up from 3,607 the year before.
Officials said the increase was caused, in part, by identification numbers started four years ago to help the department more accurately track students’ movements.
The ID numbers help keep track of students who switch districts in the middle of their careers, said spokeswoman Elaine Watkins-Miller.
She said the numbers give districts a more accurate sense of graduation and drop-out rates so they can try to focus on dropout prevention programs.
She said schools across the state spend a total of about $101 million on those programs and last year a summit was held to deal with the issue.
The Burlington school district in southeast Iowa has the state’s highest dropout rate at nearly 8.6 percent.
“When I saw the dropout rate, it’s obviously not pleasing to the district,” Burlington Superintendent Lee Morrison said.
School officials in Davenport say their focus on at-risk students has helped keep dropout numbers in their district low. The district has continued a three-year trend of lower dropout numbers, falling from 351 in 2005-2006 to 255 in 2007-2008.
The state traditionally earns high marks for its graduation rate and Watkins-Miller said despite the increase in dropouts, the state’s graduation rate of 88.7 percent is still a good number.
But she said the new tracking data should help push that number even higher.
“We don’t want to see an increase (in number of drop outs) but if it’s because we’re getting to a level of detail that is going to be beneficial, than that is part of what we want to have happen,” Watkins-Miller said.

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