The Reenrollment of High School Dropouts in a Large, Urban School District

Primary Researchers: Vanessa Barrat, BethAnn Berliner, Anthony Fong, Paul Shirk

Publication Date: July 2008

Researchers from WestEd's Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West) tracked a cohort of first-time ninth graders in the San Bernardino City (CA) Unified School District from 2001/02 though 2005/06. The study describes the scope of the district's dropout problem and the numbers, characteristics, and graduation outcomes of those students who reenrolled during the five-year, on-time graduation time frame, as well as the challenges districts face once these students reenter the system. The study also documents what district staff and reenrollees say about policies and practices to improve graduation outcomes for dropouts who return to school.

The study culminated in a report, written by REL West researchers. A short summary is also available.

Research Questions

REL West researchers addressed the following key questions:

  • What is the magnitude of reenrollment?
  • What are the characteristics of reenrollees?
  • What are the academic and graduation outcomes for reenrollees?
  • What issues did the district confront regarding reenrollment of dropouts?
  • What do district staff and students suggest about changes in policies and practices?


This mixed methods descriptive study used the following data and analyses:

  • Linked, longitudinal student-level data including demographic, enrollment, and course-history information for every year of the study
  • Interviews with district administrators, high school principals, and dropouts currently reenrolled in various district high schools
  • Reenrollment and dropout rates, computed by gender, ethnicity, English learner status, low economic status, age on entering the ninth grade, and suspension
  • Course history and grade data allowed for reporting on course failure and credit accumulation
  • Interview content analysis provided detailed descriptions and explanations of the reasons students dropped out and reenrolled, and the challenges for students, schools, and districts

Key Findings

This study resulted in the following key findings:

  • Dropping out is not necessarily a permanent outcome: About one third of San Bernardino City Unified School District dropouts reenrolled in district schools.
  • Hispanic, English learner, and male students were more likely to drop out and less likely to reenroll than other students, resulting in higher rates of permanent dropout events for these groups.
  • Ninth grade and Black students were more likely to drop out and more likely to reenroll than other students, resulting in higher rates of temporary enrollment interruptions for these groups.
  • The majority of reenrollees dropped out for the first time in the ninth grade.
  • Over half of reenrollees returned to school for only one year.
  • Before dropping out, reenrollees earned on the average more course credits than dropouts who didn't return to school but less than students on track to graduate.
  • Ultimately, 18.4% of reenrollees earned a district high school diploma by 2005/06.

Policy Considerations

This study offers the following policy considerations:

  • Increase district capacity to offer credit recovery options at both traditional and continuation high schools.
  • Enroll credit-deficient students early in rapid recovery interventions.
  • Target additional funds and interventions to follow reenrollees to the schools where they return.
  • Coordinate course-credit accrual plans for individual reenrollees.
  • Adjust the dropout rate formula so schools are not penalized for students with multiple dropout events.
  • Published: July 2008
  • Research Type: Issues & Answers
  • Methodologies: Descriptive
  • Contact info:
    BethAnn Berliner 510.302.4209

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