Original Reports

Students Leaving Tiverton Schools?

Question: I would like to know how many kids who graduate from Tiverton Middle School go to a private school after 8th grade graduation?

Tracking the students who leave Tiverton’s school system is more difficult than it might seem, especially if our interest is mainly in using numbers as a metric for judging quality.  First, there are families that come to town from elsewhere and families that leave for other reasons.  Then, there are students who transfer to private schools or the other way around (or both in different years).  When we get to high school, some of the students may just be dropping out altogether.

We also have to consider that every class of students is a unique collection of demographics and personalities.  And other factors can play a role — notably the economy.

The Department of Education does have data on the number of students from each district who attend private schools, but the format in which it is available would require more work than we have the time to spend whittling it down to a format that would be useful to us.  The number of years of information available might not shed much light on the reader’s question, anyway.

One way to come up with some kind of an answer with relative ease, is to look at the October enrollment numbers, which the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has online back to the 1998-1999 school year.  Doing so can give us a general sense of when students come and go.

The following chart shows the percentage increase of a class from what it was the year before.  In other words, if the second grade has more children than the first grade did the year before, the chart would show the increase as a percentage.  To get around some of the unique circumstances described above, the chart averages the data back as far as RIDE provides it, so the number shown is the average from the 1998-1999 to the 2013-2014 school year.

The chart shows Tiverton in comparison with North Smithfield and Barrington for a few reasons:

  • One obvious comparison, Portsmouth, doesn’t work well because the district experiences a big surge in ninth grade, when the Little Compton students come over.
  • In 2012, I did a reasonably thorough review of the demographic and other qualities of all of Rhode Island’s cities and towns, and North Smithfield was the most similar to Tiverton.  In addition to the (mainly economic) information at that link, I looked at other aspects, too, that might affect an education system, such as square miles in town, population density, and student population diversity.
  • As a wealthy town with a leading school district, Barrington is somewhat unique.  I included it, here, mainly to illustrate that the trend of enrollment declines is not inevitable, as a sort of goal toward which Tiverton should strive.

tivert-nsmithfield-barrington-Y2Yenrollmentchange-1998-2014

Although it is especially pronounced, in Tiverton, the surge of government-school students in ninth grade is probably pretty common around the state, in part because tuition increases substantially for private school students, from middle school to high school.  Judging from demographics, it would be reasonable to suggest that the effect is especially pronounced in Tiverton in large part because there are a number of private elementary schools in the area and the incomes of Tiverton residents may be high enough to afford them, but not high enough to take the $12,000-plus private high school tuitions in stride.

In terms of the reader’s question, it appears that (on a net basis, meaning subtracting those who leave from those who arrive) families give Tiverton High School a try and then begin to move on.

However, to keep the numbers in perspective it’s important to remember that graduating classes have ranged from around 120 to around 170 students, in Tiverton.  That means that every 2% increase or decrease is roughly three students.

To answer the reader’s question as directly as this data allows, for the twelve years that we can compare the number of students starting eighth grade in Tiverton with the number starting twelfth grade, the average number of students lost is 30.  That’s an average of a 17% drop in high school seniors from the start of eighth grade.

For comparison, North Smithfield lost an average of 20 students, or 13%, while Barrington actually gained an average of 8 students, or 3%.

Of course, every class will vary.  For a sense of the trends, the following chart follows the five graduating classes for which there is a complete set of October enrollment numbers from first grade through twelfth.

tivert-octoberenrollment-classof2010-2014

From this chart, we see that there isn’t a pattern that applies every year.  The classes of 2010 and 2013 peaked in ninth grade.  The class of 2011 peaked in eighth grade.  And the classes of 2012 and 2014 peaked in fifth grade.

If readers would like to see these numbers compared with any other cities in towns in Rhode Island, please send an email to info@tivertonfactcheck.org, and we’ll post the information.  Or send emails through the “Ask a Question” link under “Your Questions Answered” at the top of the page, on this or any other topic about which you’d like more information.

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Justin Katz

Justin Katz, Vice President of the Tiverton Town Council, is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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