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District drop-out rate falls

Posted: May 12, 2009 9:06 p.m.
Updated: May 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The William S. Hart Union High School District has a four-year drop-out rate of 10.5 percent for the 2007-08 school year, according to state figures released Tuesday, significantly lower than its drop-out rates for the previous years.

The four-year drop-out rate for the Hart district was 13.6 percent for 2006-07, state figures show.

But Hart district officials dispute the way drop-out data is used. The district’s actual drop-out rate, they say, is 2.7 percent, which is down from 3.5 percent from the previous school year.

The state’s four-year derived drop-out rate is an estimate of the percent of students who would drop out in a four-year period based on data collected for one year, according to Department of Education.

But educators at schools like Opportunities for Learning consider the state’s figures to be misleading, Deputy Superintendent Bill
Toomey said.

The figures represent students that have dropped out by the first Wednesday in October, he said.

With an alternative school for example, taking numbers from one day in October is not accurate, he said.

“The majority of the kids come to us after the first Wednesday in October,” Toomey said.

Students who attend alternative schools typically start the school year at a traditional high school, he added. They are referred to schools like Opportunities for Learning when they begin failing classes or display behavior problems, he said.

At the time the data was taken, 1,861 were reported as attending Opportunities for Learning, he said.

The school actually served 4,308 students in 2007-08, he said.

“The way the system works, our school is only given credit for 1,861,” he said.

By Toomey’s calculation, the school has a 1-year drop-out rate of 3.6 percent.

The state’s data shows a drop-out rate of 8.4 percent for Opportunities for Learning.

“It’s just flawed in general,” he said. “It’s unfair to programs trying to recover students.”

Toomey prefers to look at other data, including the state high-school exams and academic performance index (API) numbers.

The school reports an 88-percent pass rate for English and a 70-percent pass rate for math, Toomey said.

The school’s API score is 643, he said. Based on four-year drop-out calculation, the rates at the district’s schools are: Canyon, 2.9 percent; Golden Valley, 10.6 percent; Saugus, 2.6 percent; Sequoia Charter, 66.7 percent; Valencia, 4.6 percent; West Ranch, 1.1 percent; Hart, 6.8 percent; Opportunities for Learning, 48.6 percent.

Four-year drop-out data is unavailable for Bowman High School and Mission View Public School.

The district’s rate reflects the inordinately high drop-out rate from Sequoia Charter and Opportunities for Learning, both of which are alternative schools for students who are at risk.

The Hart district, however, prefers to use the one-year drop-out rate, which is a significantly lower 2.7 percent across all the district’s schools. This compares favorably to 6.5 percent for Los Angeles County and 5.3 percent for the state.

The disparity in the way the data are used occurs because the district considers four-year drop-out rates to be less reliable than the one-year rates, since California has adopted a Statewide Student Identifier number that tracks a student who moves from school to school within the state.

“The drop-out rates are much more reliable with the state ID number—much more scientific,” said David LeBarron, Hart district director of curriculum.

The figures show that roughly 90 percent of high-school seniors are graduating from schools in the Hart district, according to the figures. The local graduation rate compares with 76.7-percent countywide and 79.7 percent across the state.

The graduation rate is above 95 percent when surveying the district’s comprehensive high schools, according to LeBarron.

This is the second year of calculating student graduation and drop-out rates by comparing the number of students who enroll against the number that actually graduates. The state recently switched over to this method of calculation. When two more years of graduation data are collected, the California Department of Education will have the four years of data necessary to produce more accurate student graduation and drop-out rates at the school level, according to the Department of Education.

The four-year drop-out rate for Los Angeles County schools is 24.6 percent, a number that’s 4.5-percent higher than the state’s drop-out rate of 20.1 percent, according to figures from the Los Angeles County of Education.
The graduation rate for Los Angeles County schools is 76.7 percent, an increase by 0.6 percent from 2006-07, the county office reports.

The California Dropout Research Project recently found that when students drop out of school, they face more challenges than their better-educated peers, O’Connell said. Compared to high-school graduates, research shows that over a lifetime, dropouts have increased dependence on public assistance, lower earnings, poorer health and higher rates of unemployment, mortality, criminal behavior and incarceration, O’Connell said.


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