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Missoula Measures - High School Completion


Why this topic?

Our community goal is for kids to be successful in school, and for schools to be supportive of success for a wide range of learning styles and needs. Success in school suggests that a young person’s life has some focus; successfully negotiating high school suggests that a teenager will be more capable of functioning effectively in the wider world.

High school completion is only one of many measures that can help tell us about how well our schools serve students — in this case, about how well they serve students with challenges. But high school completion by itself doesn’t tell us much. No one measure can fully reflect school quality. Other information would help us fill in the picture. Is the curriculum and structure meaningful and relevant to kids? Do kids feel safe and valued? Are policies and programs in place to help kids learn and grow through personal and educational problems? Do schools nurture creativity and critical thinking? If the answer to these kinds of questions is yes, kids will be more likely to remain in school to graduate.

How are we doing?

Better. Steady improvement over the last 10 years. Also, fewer residents over 25 have only a high school education or less, and more have college degrees.

In 2010, Missoula Public Schools instituted the Graduation Matters a long-term, community-wide program aimed at eliminating high school dropouts. 

Missoula's Graduation Matters Program


graph missoula and montana high school dropout rate 1995-2010

Source: Missoula County Public Schools

Healthy People 2020 Target    
  Base Target
High school graduation rate 74.9% 82.4%

More dropout and GED data

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Related Data

Missoula County

graph education level Montana 2000 >age 25

Source: US Census 2000


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Social problems associated with dropping out of high school

Nationwide statistics regarding young adults age 16-24 and their level of education:

US Census, 5-yr. estimate 2008-2012 No HS Diploma HS Diploma Some College College Degree
Poverty Rate 21% 14% 14% 6%
Median Earnings $18,012 $25,731 $26,977 $41,318
Center for Labor Market Studies, NE Univ, Boston 2008        
Single mothers 38% 30% 26% 7%
Incarcerated 6% 1% 0.7% 0.1%


Brief Background

Who is at risk for dropping out

Information that can help understand reasons for dropping out of high school:

Dropout characteristics

Absences, suspensions and course failures as early as the sixth grade increase the chances of dropping out. Data collected from the 3,657 students who dropped out during the 2006-07 school year:

Other dropout characteristics:
The Montana 5-year dropout rate by gender and ethnicity:
  • Males - 3.2%
  • Females - 2.6%
  • Native Americans - 8.8
  • Whites - 2.9%

MT Statewide Dropout Rate and Report, school year 07-08, Office of Public Instruction


Most future dropouts may be identified as early as sixth grade and many can be identified even earlier.

More than half of sixth graders with the following three criteria eventually left school: attend school less than 80 percent of the time; receive a low final grade from their teachers in behavior; and fail either math or English.

Eighth-graders who miss five weeks of school or fail math or English have at least a 75 percent chance of dropping out of high school.

Retention in middle grades, and even elementary school, is associated with dropout. For example, one study on dropout determined that 64 percent of students who had repeated a grade in elementary school and 63 percent of those who had been held back in middle school left school without a diploma.

The reasons for dropping out are varied.  In Missoula, according to Missoula Basic Adult Education (2009), the most common reasons for dropping out of high school include:

Who’s at risk for dropping out?

Studies indicate that the chances of dropping out are higher for minority students and for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

However, a 1989 national analysis of dropout studies indicates that:

Dropout Rates in the United States, U.S. Dept. of Education 1990

Small schools tend to have lower dropout rates, which is credited partly to the personal attention possible in small schools, and partly to the lack of options for a teenager in a small town. Frenchtown reported a phenomenally low 1% dropout rate for 1995-1996, while the average for schools its size was 3.9%. OPI

The reasons for dropping out are varied.  In Missoula, according to Missoula Basic Adult Education, the most common reasons for dropping out of high school include:

PNA data - 2011 - Missoula Students:

graph percent of grades 8, 10, 12 - How often do you enjoy being at school 2013 

graph percent grades 8, 10, 12 - How often do you hate being at school 2012 

graph percent grades 8, 10, 12 - How often is school work meaningful 2013 


State-wide, in 2012:

Of the GED students at Missoula Basic Adult Education, 26% had been out of school for less than 1 year; 30% for 1-3 years; 23% for 4-10 years.


 graph Missoula GED test administered and percent passed 2000-2012

Source: Missoula Adult Education 
NOTE: Number of tests administered in 2000 and 2001 reflect a change in testing procedure that went into effect in 2002.

More GED and dropout data

Between 2001-2004, the UM College of Technology admitted about 15-25 GED students each year, about 1/2 of their GED applicants. This represents less than 1% of total applicants and enrollees.

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Alternative Learning

Missoula County Public Schools has 3 different programs to help marginal students stay in school: Independent Study Program; Alternative High School; and Rebound.

Home Schooling:  An average of 200-250 Missoula kids are home schooled.  Of those, about 73% are elementary grades. 

Private Schools: In school year 2010-2011, enrollment in private schools included 487 in elementary, 213 in middle school and 291 in high school.  Compared to enrollment in public schools, private schools educate about 18% of Missoula County students.  OPI

Family Resources - for marginal students.

College bound?

About 53% of MCPS students go on to college. The national rate is 70%. National Student Clearinghouse 2010 

Nationally, about 50% of those starting college actually complete a bachelor’s degree. In Missoula the average is 70%.  University of Montana 2010


Related Websites

Child Trends Data Bank

Kids Count - Reducing school dropout rates

Reducing the Dropout Rate Through Vocational Education

Links to health data, statistics and information from many national sources.


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