Incomparably comparable graduation rates

For the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Education has released high school graduation rates based on a common, rigorous measure that makes it possible to compare states, and California falls into the bottom half.

Nearly a quarter of California high school students don’t graduate after four years, according to figures released yesterday for nearly every state, the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education. [Note: Data for Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico has not been reported.]

Each state submits its own statistics to the federal government, so California’s 76 percent graduation rate for the class of 2010-11 isn’t a surprise. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson released the numbers last June.

What is new, however, is how California stacks up, and, in that regard, it’s ahead of Alaska, Louisiana and Washington, D.C., but behind Arkansas, North Dakota and Iowa, which, with an 88 percent graduation rate, is tops in the nation.

But numbers, even comparable ones, don’t always tell the whole story. For, even though the metrics are standardized, each state determines its own requirements for earning a high school diploma, and those can differ considerably in rigor.

“The rate itself can be comparable, but the meaning can be quite different,” explained Russell Rumberger, director of the California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara and author of the book Dropping Out: Why students drop out of high school and what can be done about it.

Rumberger said the figures are also “an incomplete indicator of what we want to know,” which is how many students eventually earn a diploma. The uniform measure doesn’t include students who earn a GED, students who drop out and then earn a regular diploma through a credit recovery program and students who take more than four years to graduate.

Those caveats aren’t an attempt to whitewash California’s numbers. “It’s still a lot of kids that aren’t graduating,” said Rumberger.

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3 Responses to “Incomparably comparable graduation rates”

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  1. CarolineSF on Dec 6, 2012 at 7:22 am12/6/2012 7:22 am

    • 000

    There was an oddity in that USDOE report (or maybe it should simply be called an error).

    In California, Asian students (overall, on average) are the subgroup with the highest academic achievement and a high graduation rate. Pacific Islander students, if disaggregated from Asian students, are (overall, on average) on the wrong side of the achievement gap, with quite low academic achievement and graduation rates. This is clear from disaggregated data that the California Department of Education releases annually.

    But the USDOE lumped Pacific Islander students in with Asian students and specifically — and inaccurately — reported that Pacific Islander students have a high graduation rate. Here in San Francisco, Asian students are the plurality subgroup in the school district, and we have a not-insignificant number of Pacific Islander students, whose achievement is a concern discussed in the education community. So that error stood out here as particularly glaring, yet has simply been picked up in the press without question. Just noting.

  2. ErikKengaard on Nov 28, 2012 at 5:06 pm11/28/2012 5:06 pm

    • 000

    California students 76 percent graduation rate for the class of 2010-11 isn’t a surprise. It is a great over simplification. The dropout rate for Lowell High in San Francisco is 1.6%. For Piedmont High in Alameda County, its 0.5%. For Acalanes Union High in Lafayette, its 0.6% Look them up.


    • navigio on Nov 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm11/29/2012 3:28 pm

      • 000

      By definition an average is an over simplification.

      Anyway, those schools are all 80%-90% ‘non-minority’. Two of them have zero kids with PEL less than a high school diploma. Those same two you can count the number of kids without a college-educated parent on one hand (total of the two schools, not each). Same two have F&R rates under 3% (one 0%). All have ELL rates under 4%.

      Over simplification is right.

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