Grad rate slips with calculus change, big gap remains

Grad rate slips with calculus change, big gap remains

(Calif.) Barely 73 percent of African-American students in California received a high school diploma on time in 2017, according to new state data.

Additionally, just 80 percent of Latino students who started ninth grade in 2013 graduated on time four years later. For English learners, the graduation rate in 2017 was just 67 percent; for students with disabilities, it was 65 percent; and for foster youth, it was only 50 percent.

The percentage of white students statewide that graduated on time in 2017 was 87 percent, —just under the national average. For Asian students, the rate was 93 percent.

Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, warned against comparing the newly released numbers with past years because of changes in the method used to calculate the rates—action ordered by federal regulators in the wake of a critical audit.

But Torlakson also acknowledged that there remains a “pernicious, persistent” gap between the performance of white and Asian students and virtually all other cohorts.

“We have a long way to go and need help from everyone—teachers, parents, administrators and community members—to narrow these gaps,” he said in a statement.

The federal audit, released earlier this year, found that the California Department of Education failed to provide “reasonable assurances the reported graduation rates were accurate and complete” for the 2013-14 school year.

As a result, the CDE has agreed to implement more rigorous policies governing how students are officially designated as high school graduates.

California’s problems revolve around students who were counted but earned a diploma issued through an adult education program or who passed the state’s High School Proficiency Exam.

Other states have run into similar problems. Last year, Indiana was forced to revise its policy of counting among its high school graduates all students who received a “general diploma.”

In 2016, some 8,600 Indiana students received a diploma that has less demanding course requirements. Had the new calculation measure been in place that year, the state’s graduation rate would have dropped from 89 percent to 78 percent.

For California, the adjustment resulted in a drop of about 1 percent. Using the old system, the state’s overall graduation rate in 2016 was 83.8 percent. Using the new calculation for 2017, the rate is 82.7 percent.

The CDE also announced as part of the calculation overhaul, that it will speed up the timeline for releasing the graduation records. The 2018 records will be released in December, in time to be included in district performance reports next fall.

On the bright side, Torlakson noted that the number of students who have met all the requirements for admission to the University of California and the California State University systems continues to grow.

Since 2007, there has been more than a 30 percent increase in high school graduates eligible for UC and more than a 53 percent increase in CSU eligibility, the CDE reported.

He also pointed out that the number of high school graduates who have  gained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading and writing one or more languages in addition to English has also grown. In 2017, almost 44,600 students received recognition of the language skill by earning the State Seal of Biliteracy.

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