State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell today released the annual report on dropout and graduation rates for the 2008-09 school year.
In 2008-09, 70.1 percent of public school students in California graduated from high school, up from 68.5 percent last year. The adjusted four-year derived dropout rate for the same school year is 21.7 percent, up from 18.9 percent last year.
In the William S. Hart High School District, the dropout rate is 1.6 percent; with a total of 280 students leaving school before graduation.
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When reviewed by subgroup statewide, the graduation and dropout rate data continue to highlight the achievement gap. The graduation rate among Hispanic students is 59 percent, a 4.9 percentage point increase since last year. Among African-American students the graduation rate is 59.6 percent, a 1.4 percentage-point increase.
The estimated dropout rate among Hispanics is at 26.9 percent and among African-Americans it is 36.9 percent. The percentages for both subgroups are up by approximately 3 percentage points, mirroring the percentage increase in the statewide results.
“I am glad to see the graduation rate inch up, but remain deeply concerned that the dropout rate is also increasing slightly,” said O’Connell. “We now have a data system that allows us to track students more accurately and have honest conversations about how to improve graduation rates and reduce dropouts among all subgroups of students. Next year we will transition totally to the use of student-level longitudinal data and will be able to calculate the most accurate graduation and dropout rates possible.”
The 2008-09 data represents the third year of calculating student graduation and dropout rates by collecting student-level enrollment and exit data. Although this is the third year of using student-level data, this is the first year this data were collected through the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). Right now the California Department of Education (CDE) is collecting the student-level exit data for the class of 2010 that will produce all four years of data necessary to transition from using aggregate rates to more accurate student graduation and dropout rates at the school level. By this spring, California will be able to calculate for the first time these longitudinal rates that are required by federal regulations.
Graduation and dropout rates are usually produced in the spring of each year, but due to the initial operational challenges of CALPADS, local educational agencies (LEAs) were given an extended deadline to submit their data.
Caution should be used when analyzing this first year of data through CALPADS. There is always some variance in the information gathered in the first year of using a new data system. Some LEAs struggled with submitting this first year of data because no specific resources were made available to LEAs to implement the more complex CALPADS data submissions. Fluctuations in the individual rates of schools and districts submitting their data are to be expected, considering this is the first year of CALPADS implementation and reliance on aggregate formula rates.
“This underscores the urgency of the Legislature and Governor-elect Brown to act quickly to restore $6.8 million in federal funding set aside for CALPADS that was vetoed in October by Governor Schwarzenegger,” added O’Connell. "Unless funding is restored, the millions of dollars already invested in CALPADS will have been wasted, and our state will be at ground zero in collecting student-level data, placing us last among the states in measuring student progress over time.
“I also urge the Legislature and Governor-elect to reconsider providing $32 million – just $5 per student – to support the workload associated with collecting, maintaining, and submitting student-level data. The funding would help ensure quality student-level data are submitted to CALPADS that will help us develop policies that better serve our students.”
The 2008-09 rates released today for graduation and four-year derived dropout rates may be compared to last year’s release of the 2007-08 rates, because the method of collecting data and calculating the rates are the same. However, comparing the 2008-09 released today to the 2009-10 rates to be released next year will not be possible, because the four-year cohort rate will be calculated in a different manner than the previous years. A “cohort” is described here as tracking individual students from grade nine through grade twelve.
All public school students were assigned non-personally identifiable codes called Statewide Student Identifiers (SSID) by June 2005 that follows the child throughout his or her academic career. The use of SSIDs in CALPADS increases accountability for districts to find students who stop coming to school. SSIDs also help districts identify students who were considered a dropout at a school they left but in fact were enrolled in a different district. The data also allow CDE to identify students reported by a school district as transferring to another California school district but cannot be found subsequently enrolled. These students are now properly counted as dropouts rather than transfers.
In total, there are 28 different withdrawal codes used to categorize student status, including whether they graduated, dropped out, completed their education in other ways, moved to a different state, transferred to another school, or are continuing as a fifth-year senior. More information on dropout reporting and withdrawal codes can be found on the CDE Enrollment, Graduate, and Dropout Definitions Web page http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/dc/cb/ssidguide08.asp .
The dropout rates are calculated for high school students, grades nine through twelve. There are significant numbers of students who drop out of school during the middle school years. Although CDE posts dropout counts for middle school grades, middle school dropout rates have never been calculated. CDE staff is currently working on developing such rates for middle schools that will be released at a later date.
The dropout and graduation rates that CDE currently posts using an aggregate formula provide a reasonable estimate in most cases. However, there are school-level configurations where these estimates do not work well.
Traditional high school dropout rates will tend to be lower than the state rate and graduation rates will be higher because many students at risk of dropping out are placed in county-run dropout recovery or educational option programs. So if students drop out, this would be attributed to the county-run or educational option program, rather than to the traditional high school. These programs would often have inflated aggregate dropout rates because the aggregate dropout calculation is based on a single day of enrollment. These schools have very high rates of students moving into and out of the system. Therefore, dropout-rate calculations are not posted for schools that are operated by county offices of education because of constraints in interpreting these calculations with high-mobility students. Caution must also be used when calculating or analyzing dropout rates for other schools with high mobility, including alternative schools or dropout recovery high schools.
Comparing dropout rates for alternative schools and dropout recovery high schools to local comprehensive high schools is also inappropriate. In many cases, alternative schools serve only those students who are already at the greatest risk of dropping out of school because of their prior academic challenges.