05 SES 10 A, Drop-Out and Early School Leaving
Adolescence is a period of transition from childhood to adulthood and is significant to the later course of the person’s life not least with respect to school success and later career options. In most western countries, after having completed compulsory education, the majority of young people continue into post-compulsory education. In the Nordic as well as in other OECD countries, upper secondary education is regarded as the minimal level of necessary educational attainment. Still many young people drop out of upper secondary school. Although the situation has been improving in many European Union member states, in 2019, on average 10.2% of those aged 18-24 in the EU left education with only lower secondary education or less (Eurostat, n.d.).
School dropout is of concern across nations. Compared to those who graduate, students who leave school get fewer opportunities in the labour market, in further education and in civic life. In addition, they seem more at risk of unemployment, becoming dependent on welfare and experiencing health problems (European Commission, 2018; Nordic Social Statistical Committee, 2011; Rumberger, 2011). These negative personal and societal consequences suggest that adolescents’ decision on whether to drop out or persist within school can be described as one of the most crucial developmental tasks of this age period.
Students who drop out of school are a large and diverse group and leave for a variety of reasons. Dropping out is a complex process of interactions between the individual and his or her environment which often happens over a long period of time. Risk and protective factors involve characteristics of the individual and her or his social context in the family, the school, and the community (Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2014; Entwisle, Alexander, & Olson, 2005; Rumberger, 2011).
Research on school dropout has been criticised for treating early school leavers as a homogeneous group, ignoring their psychosocial diversity (Feinstein & Peck, 2008; Janosz, Le Blanc, Boulerice, & Tremblay, 2000). Our research addresses such criticism by identifying different subgroups of young people who leave school without graduation. The typology is based on significant factors that contribute to early school leaving, i.e. students’ behavioural, emotional and cognitive engagement (the three main dimensions of student engagement, Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004) and emotional problems in upper secondary school, as well as academic achievement at the end of compulsory school which is the single strongest predictor of school dropout.
Student engagement is a key concept in theories on school dropout; leaving school is viewed as a long-term process of disengagement (Finn, 1989; Newmann, Wehlage, & Lamborn, 1992). There is a societal concern of students’ lack of engagement with school. This is especially true in the older grades as student engagement generally decreases substantively with age starting in early adolescence (Eccles et al., 1993; Wang & Eccles, 2012). Concern for students’ engagement is not surprising as school is central to the daily life of children and adolescents and considered vital to their educational success. Student engagement is related to educational outcomes such as academic achievement and school dropout (Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2012; Rumberger, 2011).
Increasingly, emotional problems are receiving attention in research on school dropout. Adolescents who experience anxiety and especially depression seem to be at risk of leaving school early (Riglin, Petrides, Frederickson, & Rice, 2014) and young people’s mental health problems seems to be increasing (Directorate of Health, 2017).
This study should be informative for prevention and intervention practices across Europe both for those who work with young people and for policy planners in education, increasing awareness of the complex phenomenon of school dropout.
The results are drawn from an ongoing longitudinal research – School effectiveness and students’ educational progress - commencing in 2007 with a survey in all general upper secondary schools in Iceland. A total of 3,470 students aged 16 to 20 participated at baseline. They were followed over a seven-year period. We build on three different sources: A self-report questionnaire administered in upper secondary schools, registered data on educational trajectories and attainment (graduation/dropout) at age 23 to 27, and standardized academic achievement test at the end of compulsory school at age 16. The participants were considered to have dropped out of school if they had not completed, and were not registered in, an upper secondary school at age 23 to 27. We conducted cluster analysis in two steps. First, we conducted hierarchical analysis using Ward’s method. Second, we used K-means cluster analysis to refine the four-cluster solution. We based the clustering on seven indicators, five for student engagement (academic interest, social identification, school bonding, aspirations and negative academic behaviour), and one each for emotional problems (depression/anxiety) and academic achievement (average marks on standardized tests in Icelandic and mathematics at age 15).
Our findings confirm that students who drop out form a diverse group which leaves school for a variety of reasons. We identified four distinct subgroups of dropouts with regard to engagement, emotional problems and previous academic achievement, i.e. alienated, low-spirited, low-achievers and sociable. All the above factors predict dropout, but not in the same way for different groups. Similar findings emerged for other known predictors of school dropout, that is students background, parents’ involvement and drug use differently related to dropout depending on student group. The findings of the study shed new light on the complexity of the dropout phenomenon and the importance of taking into account the specific needs of different groups, both in prevention and intervention efforts. From the results, we can assume that a sizable proportion of students would need a relatively modest amount of support to stay in school - that is the sociable who are more similar to graduates than the other three group - while others need much more support. The alienated are clearly distinct from the other dropout groups, they show most disengagement from school in addition to experiencing depression and anxiety. The low-spirited also feel depressed and anxious, but they show considerably more engagement compared to the alienated. The fourth group, low-achievers is least prepared academically, with the lowest achievement on the standardized tests at end of compulsory school but compared to the alienated and the low-spirited, these students are engaged and do not suffer depression/anxiety. Thus an informed intervention, noticing the diversity of early school leavers, carried out by schools or education system could potentially make a significant difference. Finally, as children grow up within systems, such as family and schools, it is important that these systems coordinate their efforts in developing means to secure positive outcomes for adolescents at risk.
Blondal, K. S., & Adalbjarnardottir, S. (2012). Student disengagement in relation to expected and unexpected educational pathways. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 56(1), 85-100. Blondal, K. S., & Adalbjarnardottir, S. A. (2014). Parenting in relation to school dropout through student engagement: A longitudinal study. Journal of Marriage and family, 76, 778-795. Directorate of Health. (2017). Geðheilbrigði ungs fólks á Íslandi fer hrakandi. [Mental health among young people in Iceland is getting worse]. Talnabrunnur. Fréttabréf Landlæknis um heilbrigðisupplýsingar, 11(6). Eccles, J. S., Wigfield, A., Midgley, C., Reuman, D., Mac Iver, D., & Feldlaufer, H. (1993). Negative effects of traditional middle schools on students' motivation. The Elementary School Journal, 93(5), 553–574. Entwisle, D. R., Alexander, K. L., & Olsen, L. S. (2005). First grade and educational attainment by age 22: A new story. The American Journal of Sociology, 110(5), 1458-1502. European Commission. (2018). Situation of young people in the European Union. Retrieved from https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/b6985c0c-743f-11e8-9483-01aa75ed71a1 Eurostat. (n.d.). Being young in Europe today – education. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Being_young_in_Europe_today_-_education Feinstein, L., & Peck, S. C. (2008). Unexpected pathways through education: Why do some students not succeed in school and what helps others beat the odds? Journal of Social Issues, 64, 1–20. Finn, J. D. (1989). Withdrawing from school. Review of Educational Research, 59(2), 117-142. Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74, 59–109. Janosz, M., Le Blanc, M., Boulerice, B., & Tremblay, R. E. (2000). Predicting different types of school dropouts: A typological approach with two longitudinal samples. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 171–190. Newmann, F., Wehlage, G. G., & Lamborn, S. D. (1992). The significance and sources of student engagement. In F. Newmann (Ed.), Student engagement and achievement in American secondary schools (pp. 11–39). New York: Teachers College Press. Nordic Social Statistical Committee. (2011). Youth unemployment in the Nordic countries: A study on the rights and measures for young jobseekers. Copenhagen: Author. Riglin, L., Petrides, K. V., Frederickson, N., & Rice, F. (2014). The relationship between emotional problems and subsequent school attainment: A meta-analysis. Journal of Adolescence, 37, 335–346. Rumberger, R.W. (2011). Dropping out. Why students drop out of high school and what can be done about it. Harvard University Press: Cambridge. Wang, M. T. & Eccles, J. S. (2012). Social support matters: Longitudinal effects of social support on three dimensions of school engagement from middle to high school. Child Development, 83, 877–895.
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