Margbreytileiki brotthvarfsnemenda

Translated title of the contribution: Diversity of school dropouts. A typological approach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


School dropout is of great concern in Iceland. After completing compulsory education
at age 16, most students transfer directly to upper secondary school. However, many
drop out. At the age of 24 almost 40% have still to complete upper secondary school
and this situation has not altered over the years. The group of students who drop
out is both large and diverse. To date, research has not paid due attention to this
fact, tending to treat dropouts as a homogenous group. Our research addresses such
criticism by identifying different subgroups of young people who leave school before
The results are drawn from an ongoing longitudinal research – School effectiveness
and students’ educational progress - commencing in 2007 with a survey in all general
upper secondary schools in Iceland. A total of 3,470 students aged 16 to 20 participated,
followed over a seven-year period. We build on three different sources: A self-report
questionnaire administered in upper secondary schools, registered data on educational
trajectories and status at age 23 to 27, and standardized tests on academic achievement
at the end of compulsory school at age 15.
The typology is based on significant factors that contribute to early school leaving, i.e.
students’ behavioral, emotional and cognitive engagement and emotional problems in
upper secondary school, and academic achievement at the end of compulsory school.
Student engagement is a key concept in theories and research on school dropout;
leaving school is viewed as a long-term process of disengagement. Increasingly,
emotional problems are receiving attention in this field of study, both because of
the relation to school dropout and because young people’s mental health seems to be
declining. Previous academic achievement is the single strongest predictor of school
We conducted cluster analysis in two steps. First, we conducted hierarchical analysis
using Ward’s method. Second, we used K-means cluster analysis to refine the fourcluster solution. We based the clustering on seven indicators, five for engagement
(academic interest, social identification, school bonding, aspirations and negative
academic behavior), and one each for emotional problems (depression/anxiety)
and academic achievement (average marks on standardized tests in Icelandic and
mathematics at age 15). The analysis resulted in four distinct clusters of school
dropouts, i.e. alienated, low-spirited, low-achievers and sociable.
The alienated are clearly distinct from other dropout groups. They are more
commonly disengaged and dealing with emotional problems, being less engaged
emotionally and cognitively. In addition, they feel depressed and anxious and show
negative study behavior. Their academic achievement at end of compulsory school
was poor. Compared to other student groups (also graduates) they are more uncertain
about their educational choice, their parents are less involved in their education, they
take less part in social activities at school and are more likely to have tried illegal
drugs. The proportion of males is especially high in this group.
Feelings of depression and anxiety, as well as negative study behavior, characterize the
group of low-spirited students. Nevertheless, they show considerably more emotional
and cognitive engagement than the alienated but less than the other two groups
(low achievers and sociable) especially with regard to academic interest. They express
more need for educational support and counseling, compared to other student groups,
including graduates. They are also more likely to have tried illegal drugs, though not
as likely as the alienated.
Low-achievers form the group of dropouts that is least prepared academically, with
the lowest achievement on the standardized tests at the end of compulsory school.
In comparison, these students are emotionally and cognitively engaged and do not
suffer depression/anxiety. Out of the four groups, they show by far the best study
behavior. Their parents have lower educational status compared to other student
groups, including graduates, and a lower proportion of this group has chosen the
academic track.
The group of the sociable is more similar to graduates than the other three groups.
These dropouts are considerably better prepared academically than the other groups.
They are generally engaged and do not suffer depression/anxiety. They are the most
socially active compared to both other dropout groups and graduates. They take
much more part in social activities at school, compared to other student groups,
including graduates.
Our findings confirm that students who drop out form a diverse group which leaves
school for a variety of reasons. We identified four distinct subgroups of dropouts with
regard to engagement, emotional problems and previous academic achievement. All
these factors predict dropout, but not in the same way for all students. The findings
of the study shed new light on the complexity of the dropout phenomenon and the
importance of taking into account the specific needs of different groups, both in
prevention and intervention efforts.
Translated title of the contributionDiversity of school dropouts. A typological approach
Original languageIcelandic
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2018

Other keywords

  • School dropout
  • Diversity
  • Student engagement
  • Upper secondary school
  • Prevention


Dive into the research topics of 'Diversity of school dropouts. A typological approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this