One out of every three students who entered ninth grade in the District in 1994 dropped out by 1998, D.C. school officials announced last night--a rate far higher than the national average and higher than other school districts in the Washington area.

It was the first time in years that D.C. officials publicly provided a dropout rate for students. Throughout the decade, officials had estimated that the dropout rate was 40 percent or higher.

Large class sizes, lack of parent involvement in schools and other factors were cited as contributing to the dropout rate. Officials said School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman was taking new measures to keep young people in school.

"There are a number of steps the superintendent is taking to ensure that children stay in school," said Devonya Smith, a school spokesman. "They are, for example, arranging to have attendance committees at each school to help develop ways to get students to come to school. The superintendent has also purchased an automatic dialing system that alerts parents to when their child misses one or more periods in a school day. And there are other strategies in place."

The report was presented last night by D.C. school officials to the D.C. Emergency Education Board of Trustees, which helps the D.C. financial control board oversee the school system. It reviewed students in grades 7-12 as well as those in ungraded programs.

For the class of students entering ninth grade in 1994 and graduating in 1998, the dropout rate over four years was 32 percent, D.C. officials said. Based on a formula recommended by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, the graduation rate for the class of students entering ninth grade in 1994 was 63.4 percent.

For the 1997-98 school year, a total of 2,519 students dropped out, representing 9.6 percent of the 26,265 students in grades 7-12 and ungraded programs, the statistics showed.

Dropouts are defined as students who were enrolled during the previous school year though not enrolled at the beginning of the current year. Under the definition, a dropout has not graduated or completed an approved educational program, has not transferred to another program and was not temporarily absent due to suspension or illness.

The U.S. Census Bureau pegs the national dropout rate at nearly 5 percent. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, New York City sees fewer than 4 percent of students drop out every year; in Cleveland, the rate is 16 percent.

The D.C. rate was also far higher than that of many other school districts in the Washington area: In Prince Williams County, for example, only 3 percent of students in grades 7-12 dropped out last year; in Prince George's County, the rate was 4 percent.

In the District, 10th grade had the highest number of dropouts--15 percent--with 12 percent of 11th-graders leaving, 11 percent of ninth-graders and 3 percent of seven-graders. Eight percent of seniors dropped out, according to the statistics.

D.C. school officials said the dropout rate could be reduced by increased parent involvement, clear goals and standards, reduction in class sizes, quality professional development for teachers and other staff, and other measures.