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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