CINCINNATI (AP) -- Ohio's dropout rate increased between 2002 and 2009 at a higher rate than all other states except Illinois, but was just slightly higher than the national average in 2009, according to a newspaper analysis of state statistics.
The state's dropout numbers jumped from 3.1 percent to 4.2 percent in 2008-09, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Sunday.
The national average was 4.1 percent in 2009, the only year all states reported their data to the National Center for Education Statistics
Gov. John Kasich wants to reduce the dropout numbers, noting in his State of the State speech this year that high dropout numbers in Ohio's big city schools are a real problem. He wants to combat those statistics by holding students back if they can't pass reading tests by the end of third grade.
The plan is "as direct an attack on dropout rates as we can do," said Rob Nichols, Kasich's spokesman.
Students who can't read by fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out, research has found. Last year, 34 percent of Ohio students were proficient in reading by fourth grade.
Some districts have questioned the accuracy of Ohio's dropout data. Cincinnati Public Schools officials said students sometimes are counted as dropouts when they've really transferred to another district.
A report released in March said the number of Ohio high schools considered "dropout factories" jumped from 75 to 135 over the eight years ending 2010. Ohio had the biggest increase among the states, according to the children's advocacy group America's Promise Alliance.
Some blame Ohio's dropout increase on the lack of a comprehensive dropout prevention policy, The Enquirer reported.
"I view it as more piecemeal. It leaves a lot of the work on dropouts to a local level," said Andrew Benson, vice president of KnowledgeWorks Ohio, a nonprofit education reform organization.
States aren't required to have comprehensive policies to cut their dropout rates. Ohio is among the majority without such policies.
Benson said starting with the third-grade reading will help, but it might make a difference with students who drop out because of family issues, job obligations or behavioral problems.
Some experts say states need to set goals, develop strategies and monitor results in order to cut the number of dropouts.
Tracking data helps schools identify students who are at risk early on and provide them help, said Mike Bento, a vice president at the Arlington, Va.-based Communities in Schools.
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com