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    More graduate, fewer drop out in '02

    State statistics show improvements at both ends, while the results are mixed in bay area school districts.

    By Times wires and staff report
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 31, 2002

    More public high school students graduated this year and fewer dropped out of school, statistics released by the state show.

    Nearly 68 percent of Florida's high school class of 2002 received their diplomas in four years. About 3.2 percent of students in all four grades of high school dropped out of school in the 2001-02 school year.

    In the Tampa Bay area, four school districts saw improvement: Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Citrus County's graduation rate slipped slightly but stayed well above the state average.

    The statewide graduation rate was up from 64 percent in 2001, 62 percent in 2000 and 60 percent in 1999.

    The statewide dropout rate, meanwhile, continued to drop, falling from 5.4 percent in the 1998-99 school year to 4.3 percent in 1999-2000 and 3.8 percent in 2000-01.

    In the Tampa Bay area, the dropout rates fell in Hillsborough and Pasco but increased slightly in Citrus, Hernando and Pinellas.

    The graduation and dropout rates are different calculations. They don't represent the flip sides of the same coin.

    The graduation rate tells how many students graduated in the traditional four years. If it takes an extra semester for a student to graduate, he is not included in the graduation rate.

    The dropout rate is a one-year peek at the number of students leaving school. Sometimes a district will see an improved graduation rate and a worse dropout rate in the same year.

    With Election Day a week away, Gov. Jeb Bush said the statistics showed the state's schools were improving under his leadership.

    "Graduation rates are not yet high enough in our state, but they are improving greatly, and we should be very encouraged," Bush said in a release issued by the Florida Board of Education.

    But the head of the state teachers union dismissed the statistics as untrustworthy.

    "This is a politically charged time and I think this is a very political action right now," said Maureen Dinnen, president of the Florida Education Association.

    The FEA months ago endorsed Bush's Democratic rival, Bill McBride , and education has been the top issue in the governor's race.

    A report produced by the Florida Chamber of Commerce earlier this year indicated that Florida ranked 45th in the country in graduation rates in 1999 with a rate of 56 percent, he considers national comparisons were not valid because states used different accounting methods.

    Winn also said the new statistics were released on schedule, without regard to the political season. "What election?" he asked.

    The graduation rate does not account for students in private schools but does count those who earn diplomas after passing the General Educational Development test.

    The 2002 graduation rates in local school districts are: Citrus, 71.2 percent, down from 73.6; Hernando, 74, up from 67.8; Hillsborough, 77.5, up from 74.4; Pasco, 71.7, up from 65.9; and Pinellas, 66.4, up from 64.4.

    Statewide, graduation rates ranged from nearly 89 percent in Brevard County to 52 percent in Hendry County.

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