Saturday, August 20, 2011

GRADUATION DATA ‘A BIG WIN’ FOR CALPADS AND ACCOUNTABILITY - Torlakson: Reliable numbers allow for a sharper focus on reducing dropout rates

CALIFORNIA SCHOOL NEWS FROM THE California School Boards Asso.|

August 16, 2011 - The latest report on graduation and dropout rates for California students generated some rare good press for California’s beleaguered student data system, but it also renewed concerns about the substantial numbers of students who do not graduate from high school.

Thanks to the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, which has survived threats of funding cutoffs and a series of serious technical problems, the California Department of Education was able for the first time to track the progress of individual students to generate its report that:

  • 74.4 percent of students who were ninth-graders in 2006 graduated with their class in 2010.
  • 18.2 percent of their classmates dropped out.
  • 7.4 percent failed to graduate but remained in school.

CDE reported that black and Hispanic students continue to drop out at disturbingly high rates. More than 30 percent of black ninth-graders in 2006 dropped out by 2010, while 59 percent graduated. That compares with 67.7 percent of Hispanic students in the class of 2010 who graduated on time, 83.4 percent of white students,  and 89.4 percent of students of mainland Asian ancestry. CDE did report, however, the “encouraging” news that about 4,700 more Hispanic students graduated in 2010 than the year before—“by far the largest increase by any other subgroup of students.”

Torlakson: Better data allow sharper focus on closing gaps

CDE will use the new four-year cohort graduation rate as a baseline in 2011. In 2012, it will also replace the previous formula to determine graduation rates as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, CDE’s press release explained, adding that the new rate “should not be compared to any rates from previous years because it is based on a different method of calculation.”

Previous estimates of the state’s graduation and dropout rates were based on methodologies that critics said were sometimes wildly inaccurate.

“For far too long, the discussion about graduation and dropout rates has revolved around how the results were obtained,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in announcing the new data. “Now we can focus on the much more important issue of how to raise the number of graduates and lower the number of dropouts.”

The successful collection of statistics that tracked individual students was a welcome accomplishment for CALPADS, a system that has experienced chronic problems since its 2009 launch. Local educational agencies, many of them short-staffed because of budget cuts and layoffs, complained the system was difficult to use, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gov. Jerry Brown both proposed cutting CALPADS funding and starting from scratch.

“Four years ago … former Superintendent Jack O’Connell promised that CDE would be able to produce these cohort graduation rates and in spite of the struggles to implement CALPADS, the system has delivered these rates on time,” said Keric Ashley, CDE’s data management director. “I believe that the release of cohort graduation and dropout data was a big win not only for CALPADS, but more importantly a big win for transparency and accountability.”

Hispanic students’ 67.7 percent graduation rate, for example, is dragged down by other data showing that only 56.3 percent of students designated as English learners graduated on time.

“But CALPADS can tell us more than that. If we remove the English learners from the 67.7 percent graduation rate, the remainder of the Hispanic students have a 75.1 percent graduation rate. Clearly, the Hispanic achievement gap is much more about language than race. It's detailed reports like this that will allow educators to focus our limited resources to help students and schools improve performance.”

The new statistics also included information about middle school dropouts for the first time, reporting that 17,000 eighth-graders dropped out and never entered ninth grade.

“The new cohort data collection system shines a light on the middle school dropout problem,” Torlakson said in a prepared statement. “Our research shows that chronic absence from school, even as early as kindergarten, is a strong indicator of whether a child will drop out of school later. Clearly we need to invest more in programs designed to keep elementary and middle school students in school.”

Fluor ties sustained gains to funding

CSBA President Martha Fluor congratulated CDE for generating reliable graduation and dropout numbers.

"I commend the California Department of Education for building a data system that more accurately calculates graduation rates. For the first time, school districts and county offices of education have access to comprehensive graduation rates, providing them the ability to base local education reform on inclusive and accurate data to further improve student achievement. These findings continue to emphasize why CALPADS is a worthy investment,” Fluor said .

She emphasized that California schools cannot continue to increase graduation rates unless the state stops draconian cuts to public education and recognizes the need to invest adequate resources in the welfare of students.

“I am proud of the overall decrease in California's high school dropout rates. Our schools continue to show significant improvements in student achievement, even as we face ongoing cuts and deferrals to education funding.  But I recognize that we still have work to do. These findings are proof that student dropout rates are not only the responsibility of our local schools but our communities. California must invest the resources and services required to address the diverse needs of our students and provide every child the opportunity to succeed. These gains will not continue if schools are consistently faced with increased class sizes, furlough days, staff layoffs and looming midyear cuts. This data reiterates the significant need to continue to invest even more in education in order to close the achievement gap.”

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