By the numbers

The S.C. Board of Education defines dropout as a student who leaves school for any reason, other than death, prior to graduation or completion of a course of studies and without transferring to another school or institution. The following shows districts’ dropout rates during a four-year period.

District 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12

Berkeley 5.5 2.0 2.7 2.0

Charleston 2.9 2.8 3.0 2.3

Dorchester 2 4.3 2.9 3.1 1.3

Dorchester 4 2.6 1.5 1.7 2.4

South Carolina 3.4 2.9 2.8 2.5

Tri-county schools are seeing fewer students give up on high school.

The dropout rates for Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester 2 and Dorchester 4 school districts fell in 2011-12 compared with the previous year, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.

The percentage of dropouts in Charleston and Dorchester 2 are the lowest they have been in four years, while Berkeley’s rate matches its lowest rate during that period.

“Any time we can see a decrease in an indicator like dropout rate, it’s cause for celebration,” said Sean Alford, assistant superintendent for instruction in suburban Dorchester 2. “All of our schools really own that.”

Each of the four districts has dropout rates lower than the state rate of 2.5 percent, which declined for the fourth consecutive year.

South Carolina’s performance was slightly better than North Carolina’s, where its high schools also reported improvement in its dropout rate to 3.01 percent. Georgia officials still didn’t know their 2011-12 dropout rate, but 3.7 percent of their students dropped out the previous school year.

South Carolina has done a good job of addressing the issue of dropouts, in part because of its focus on graduation rate, Alford said. School districts statewide are accountable for all students in their graduation rate, and that has had ramifications for the dropout rate, he said.

“It really has caused all school districts to be much more aware of the progress of every student,” he said.

Education Superintendent Mick Zais released a statement that said reducing dropout rates is a critical step toward improved on-time high school graduation rates, which he sees as an indicator of success for the entire K-12 system.

“The path to prosperity for South Carolina’s economy begins, but does not end, with greater numbers of high school graduates,” Zais said.

He called on lawmakers to focus on policies that end social promotion and require students to demonstrate mastery of basic reading, writing and mathematics skills before third grade. He also asked lawmakers to expand parent choice and encouraged schools to embrace technology.

The latest report is required by the federal government and is the most current dropout information the state has on all districts. The reporting period covers pieces of two school years; it began Oct. 1, 2011 and ended Sept. 30, 2012.

The state defines dropout as a student who leaves school for any reason, other than death, prior to graduation or completion of a course of studies and without transferring to another school.

The dropout rate isn’t intended to be an inverse of the state’s on-time graduation rate, which was 74.9 percent in 2011-2012. Neither the dropout rate nor on-time graduation rate includes students who take longer than four years to earn a diploma, who have special needs and receive a certificate of attendance, who earn their GED or who are absent due to suspension, expulsion or long-term illness.

Statewide, the dropout rate fell in 51 of the state’s 85 districts in 2011-12, and 52 percent of all dropouts happen by 10th grade. Students can legally drop out of school at age 17.

Most demographic groups saw reductions in the dropout rate; the exceptions were American Indian/Alaska Native and Asian/Pacific Islander students.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.