Based on certified enrollment, and accounting for open enrollment, Burlington's 2016-17 drop-out rate is down to 98 students from the previous year, when 149 students dropped out.

"We have 51 fewer dropouts, which is a reduction of 34.68 percent, so that's huge," Superintendent Pat Coen said, explaining the numbers were calculated using raw data.

The official count will be made available by the Iowa Department of Education sometime in January, but data specialist Wanda Hind was able to calculate the new percentage using certified enrollment for seventh- through 12th-graders, as well as the number of dropouts and returning dropouts.

According to her calculations, the district's dropout rate for the 2016-17 school year is 5.8 percent, though she cautioned the data is preliminary. The numbers don't include students who have dropped out after open enrolling out of the district or being transferred to facilities such as Christamore Family Treatment Center. 

Coen attributed the dropout reduction to efforts made by the district over the past several years, including the Freshman Academy, which introduces students to career pathways and earns them a college credit; Steps to Success, which helps students acclimate to high school; and the Get Your 12 initiative, which emphasizes the importance of completing 12 credit hours each year.

The district also did away with eighth grade graduation and replaced it with a transition ceremony. Students also have been reminded frequently of the importance of showing up, doing their work and being respectful.

But Coen said what's critical to curbing the dropout rate is identifying drastically underperforming students and communicating with them and their parents. Drastically underperforming students are those whose credit acquisition rate indicates they won't be able to graduate high school by the time they turn 21, the age at which students no longer can attend high school.

"At the end of every quarter (now trimester), any student who meets the drastically underperforming student paradigm, the administrators have to meet with the child and the parents. And they have to explain to them at their current credit hour acquisition rate, they will age out before they graduate, which means they could turn 22 before they graduate. Mathematically, they're not making it," Coen said.

Students who still are considered to be consistently drastically underperforming by the end of their sophomore year are directed to other avenues of education, such as Job Corp. 

"That just raises the expectation that coming to school and doing nothing is not an option," Coen said. "And you will get tripped up if that's what you think you're going to be doing."

The number of drastically underperforming students also has dropped since last year, when 56 freshmen were identified as being drastically underperforming at the end of the first quarter. As of the end of the first trimester this year, 24 students were drastically underperforming.