Date of Graduation


Document Type



This study used non-experimental survey research to examine: (1) what West Virginia high school principals perceived to be the characteristics of a typical dropout; (2) the impact of various dropout prevention program components; (3) the impact of state policy on those dropout prevention efforts; and (4) high school principals' perceptions of their role in dropout prevention efforts. Phase I data were taken from responses to questionnaires sent to all 122 West Virginia high school principals. Phase II data were taken from interviews with 15 West Virginia high school principals who responded to the questionnaire. The most frequently cited dropout characteristics identified by principals were linked to a sense of belonging: absenteeism, lack of school activities, need for counseling, and dislike of school. All respondent principals characterized dropouts as having some type of discipline problem. Parental involvement and early identification of potential dropouts were the program components which principals said had the highest impact on their dropout prevention efforts. Principals also identified §18-8-11 of School Laws of West Virginia, with its provision for removal of dropouts' driver's licenses, as having the highest impact on their dropout prevention efforts. While principals indicated a high commitment to dropout prevention, and saw their role as central to those efforts, they were intolerant of students identified as “troublemakers” and excluded them from dropout prevention programs. Principals also said their role was to focus on student achievement. Most principals delegated the responsibility for dropout prevention to others, except when it involved making decisions about troublemakers. Principals perceived that their roles were defined by state policy, and the resulting conflict in role expectation fostered resentment toward the state department of education. Recommendations from this study include pre-service training and professional development for principals in: identification and intervention with dropouts; implementation of dropout prevention programs; how to avoid stereotyping “troublemakers” as students who should be excluded from dropout prevention efforts. Examples of exemplary programs should be provided for principals as part of this training. Opportunities should also be provided for principals' input into state dropout prevention policy, as well as incentives to assure that schools have an adequate focus on dropout prevention.