A U.S. Department of Education report shows that California’s high school graduation ranking dropped from 30th in 2012-13 to 33rd in 2013-14, even though its graduation rate increased slightly.
The preliminary data released Monday shows that states have continued to increase high school graduation rates and to narrow the graduation rate gap for low-income students, students of color and English learners. But Minnesota, Alabama and Delaware surpassed California in state rankings by making more significant gains.
California’s graduation rate rose from 80.4 percent in 2012-13 to 81 percent the following year. Black students graduated at a slightly lower rate in 2013-14, dropping from 68.1 percent to 68 percent. The graduation rate for Hispanic and Latino students, however, grew by 1.3 percentage points during that time, from 75.7 percent to 77 percent, while the rate for whites improved 0.3 percentage points, growing from 87.7 to 88 percent.
The state’s graduation rate mirrored the previously announced national average of 81 percent. Iowa had the highest graduation rate in 2013-14 at 90.5 percent, while the District of Columbia posted the lowest rate at 61.4 percent. The U.S. Department of Education received the data directly from the states.
“The hard work of America’s educators, families, communities and students is paying off, particularly after several years of intense work by educators transitioning to new, higher standards,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a prepared statement. “This is a vital step toward readiness for success in college and careers for every student in this country.”
The National Center for Education Statistics expects to release final graduation rate data, along with the country’s newest graduation rate, in the next few months.
“The hard work of America’s educators, families, communities and students is paying off, particularly after several years of intense work by educators transitioning to new, higher standards,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a prepared statement.
California was among 36 states that increased graduation rates, while six had decreases and eight had no change over the two-year period. States with the biggest gains were Delaware, Alabama, Oregon, West Virginia and Illinois.
From 2012-13 to 2013-14, Minnesota, Alabama and Delaware surged ahead of California, improving their graduation rates from 80.4 percent or lower to 81.2 percent, 86.3 percent and 87 percent, respectively.
“While these gains are promising, we know that we have a long way to go in improving educational opportunities for every student – no matter their zip code – for the sake of our young people and our nation’s economic strength,” Duncan said.
The majority of states saw their gaps in graduation rates dwindle, but by how much varied between subgroups of students. California, for example, narrowed its gap between Hispanics and whites, and between all students and low-income students and English learners. But the gap increased slightly between blacks and whites and between all students and those with disabilities.
The gap shrank by 1 percentage point between Hispanics and whites, 0.6 percentage points between all students and low-income students, and 1.3 percentage points between all students and English learners. However, the gap increased 0.4 percentage points between blacks and whites and 0.5 percentage points between all students and those with disabilities.
The ability to compare graduation rates nationwide improved in 2010, when all states, districts and schools began using the same metric – called “the adjusted cohort graduation rate” – which tracks students as they move from 9th through 12th grades.
California initially released its 2013-14 graduation rates in April, reporting that it had reached 80.8 percent, which was a state record. However, that number was subsequently adjusted to 81 percent, spokeswoman Pam Slater said Monday.
At the time, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson praised the increase, especially in light of the state’s recent adoption of the more rigorous Common Core standards.
“This is more evidence that the dramatic changes taking place in our schools are gradually helping to improve teaching and learning in every classroom,” Torlakson said in April. “We have raised academic standards, started online testing, given local districts more flexibility in spending, and provided more resources to students who need it most.”
However, he said more attention should be focused on closing gaps.
“I challenge educators, parents, students, and community leaders to continue the hard work needed to help every student graduate – and to make a special effort to raise graduation rates for English learners and Latino and African-American students,” he said.
The state plans to release its 2014-15 graduation rate data next spring.
The U.S. Department of Education has invested more than $1 billion in programs and grants aimed at preparing students for college and careers, according to a news release. These include early education programs and others aimed at closing opportunity gaps and achievement gaps, including Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, School Improvement Grants, and expanding college access and affordability.
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