By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/eLqfaQ
12/08/2010 -- Fewer students are graduating from Los Angeles Unified high schools and more are dropping out, according to statewide data released Tuesday.
LAUSD officials disputed the multi-year trend portrayed by the state figures, stressing that over the last three years they've made steady gains in retaining students.
Still, they also acknowledged that their own single-year figures for 2008-09 were actually worse than the statistics released by the state, with a lower graduation rate and a higher dropout rate.
According to the statistics released by the California Department of Education, 69.6 percent of LAUSD's students graduated high school in four years in 2008-09, compared to 72.4 percent in 2007-08.
The same data shows that just under a third - 29.6 percent - of LAUSD's students dropped out in 2008-09, compared to 26.4 percent in 2007-08.
Using their own student data, however, LAUSD officials say 52 percent of their high school students graduated in four years in 2008-09. But they said that was a gain from 2007-08, when just 46 percent of high school students graduated in four years.
According to the district's owns data, the dropout rate dipped over the same time from 54 percent in 2007-08 to 48 percent in 2008-09.
"We're really talking about apples and oranges because we are using two very different formulas," said Cynthia Lim, LAUSD's executive director of data and accountability.
State education officials conceded that several school districts, especially larger urban ones, took issue with this year's graduation and dropout data from the state.
"There were a number of issues... this is a new system and there is a learning curve," said Keric Ashley, director of data management for the California Department of Education.
Some districts had huge variances between their statistics last year and the year before while others, like LAUSD, refuted the accuracy of the statewide data.
LAUSD calculates its dropout and graduation rate by tracking individual students, a practice adopted more than four years ago after the district was criticized for underreporting student dropout figures.
The district uses this data to inform parents about a high school's dropout rate but it must continue to use the state's data to meet academic benchmarks.
"I believe what I've tried to do is create a picture of integrity and transparency in this district," said LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
"When you're transparent it's not always a beautiful picture but you can't improve things if you don't look at them honestly."
Still, Cortines said he was not happy with the district's graduation rate.
"I believe schools have worked hard, and there are some bright spots, but this is not a pretty picture," he said.
He said he will look at schools that have shown marked improvement and require lower-performing schools to adopt similar reforms.
"I am no longer willing to simply suggest that a school adopt a plan," he warned. "I will simply put the plan in place, unless they can offer a better one."
The state has begun to collect individual student data as well, but it has not collected enough to produce true four-year graduation and dropout rates, so at this point it uses formulas to reach an estimate.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said the state expected to have enough student data to produce a true graduation rate and drop-out rate by next year.
The confusion could be problematic for some high schools, who have to reach certain graduation rate goals to meet federal and state academic benchmarks.
O'Connell, who is termed out at the end of this year, said continuing to collect accurate student data needs to remain a priority for newly elected state leaders.
Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut funding for the state's data collection system, coined Calpads. The system has been plagued with issues that this year caused a five-month delay in the reporting of graduation and dropout rates.
O'Connell told reporters Tuesday he was not pleased with the mixed results in this year's statewide graduation and dropout rates.
While the state saw its graduation rate inch upwards, dropout rates also increased.
Just over 70 percent of California's high school students graduated in four years in 2008-09, up from 68.5 percent in 2007-08.
State dropout rates grew as well from 18.9 percent in 2007-08, to 21.7 percent in 2008-09.
"Clearly the dropout rate in California is too high, it's unacceptable, and absolutely must be addressed," O'Connell said.
He celebrated some gains made in closing the academic achievement gap between Latino and black students and their white and Asian peers.
For example, Latino students showed a gain of 5 percentage points in graduation rates between 2007-08 and 2008-09. Black student graduation rates also rose 1.4 percentage points, up from 58.2 percent in 2007-08.
"The urgency we must have in closing the achievement gap... is no longer a moral imperative or social imperative, but today it's an economic imperative," O'Connell said.
"The workforce we will need in California needs to be well skilled and well educated and it will come from this group (of students)," he said.
Contra Costa Times - Melissa Pamer -
Local Los Angeles Unified campuses showed some gains and some significant loses in fighting to keep students in class, while Centinela Valley high schools ...
MyFox Los Angeles -
The rate in Los Angeles County was 75.7 percent, compared to 77.8 percent the year before. For students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, ...